Good news! Arbitron has created a ratings system that begs to be gamed.
PPM has made it much easier for stations to impact the numbers. And it gives large radio groups a big advantage over the little guys.
Diary keepers fill out a diary for just one single week.
That’s why gaming a diary-based book is so difficult.
On the other hand, gaming a PPM-based book is much easier.
Let’s say the guy dating your sister has a meter. He can end up carrying that meter for two years.
Not only will the boyfriend impact your ratings for two years, the extra money he earns by carrying the meter will enable him to take your sister out to nicer restaurants.
Don’t have a sister? No problem. Here’s how you too can game PPM.
First, launch a succession of contests that require listeners to register if they want to play.
They don’t even have to be your listeners, so use other media to reach your non-listeners. They just need to be (how do we say this) impressionable.
You’re looking for as many prize pigs active listeners as possible.
You need to find people who can be bought, because you are going to ultimately buy their listening.
Then you need some way to keep in touch with them.
Once you’ve got a large database of active listeners that you can contact regularly, the fix is in.
Create “secret” contests for these listeners. Make them feel special. Tell them only a limited number of listeners can participate.
The contests should be easy to play. Give them chances to win at specific times throughout the day.
The name of the game is increased occasions.
Make sure your contest players regularly win small prizes. Also give them chances to win really big prizes from time to time.
You may be telling yourself that this is no big deal.
It’s the sort of thing most radio stations have tried from time to time for a long time.
The difference is that with PPM, the odds have changed in your favor.
And if you’re part of a large radio group, your chances of impacting the ratings are even better.
Now with PPM, you might have as few as 1,200 total meters in the market.
We’ve all seen what happens when just one or two PPM participants are swapped out.
Today with PPM you’re much more likely to run across a meter panelist during your contest registration than if you're measured by diary.
On top of the math, you’ve now got psychology working in your favor.
Diary keepers might get a couple of bucks to fill out the diary, more if they are in a difficult cell to recruit.
In contrast, a meter keeper makes enough that Arbitron has to send them a W-9 form at the end of the year.
Each family member can make something like $50 a month, more with bonuses. Threaten to quit and they get even more.
And to make this money, all they have to do is keep the thing in motion for eight hours a day.
PPM attracts participants who like to make money--contest players. The very people that you can buy.
Lure them to the radio station through contests. Keep them engaged by dangling money and you’ve got a fan that can influence your ratings for a year, maybe two.
Large groups benefit more than smaller operators because it is expensive to recruit listeners, maintain databases, and keep contests going.
A large group can spread the cost of entertaining these “special” listeners across multiple stations.
And once you’ve inadvertently signed up a handful of meter carriers, the contests essentially pay for themselves through higher ratings.
Is it legal?
Yes, as long as you follow Arbitron’s guidelines.(PDF)
You cannot specifically recruit PPM panelists.
Oh, and you can’t have a meter keeper attach the meter to her dog and leave the radio on at home while she's at work.
She’ll figure that trick out on her own.