While US radio is dominated by a handful of PPM-friendly formats, Canadian broadcasters have made an effort to maintain format diversity despite low ratings fueled by PPM’s flaw of under-reporting listening to some formats.
Now Numeris, the Canadian rating organization, has chosen to jeopardize Canada’s diverse format landscape with a misdirected attempt to maintain the status quo.
Numeris has declared PPM untouchable.
Consequently the organization will perpetuate the un-level playing field that PPM created when it replaced diaries in Canada.
The problem started when Canadian broadcasters, learning of the success of Voltair in the US, decided to try it themselves. A few stations installed Voltair and saw immediate results.
Voltair rating spikes in the US generate stories of miraculous gains and record ratings. In Canada, rating spikes caused consternation and concern.
Ultimately Numeris felt it had to act. It instructed its broadcast members to pull Voltair.
It is a disservice to the industry it ostensibly serves, but more importantly it is a disservice to all Canadians.
Stations that keep Canadian radio diversified will likely suffer economically. Canadian radio will have no choice but to move further towards US radio homogeneity.
By forcing stations to pull Voltair Canadian radio will return to the old way, rewarding PPM friendly formats and punishing formats that PPM has trouble encoding or decoding.
Troubling is the fact that Numeris appears to have made its decision based on erroneous information.
We now have convincing evidence that PPM picks winners and losers based on station programming material, format, and listening environment.
With PPM listeners alone do not pick winners and losers.
PPM penalizes some formats, rewards others, and ultimately distorts ratings. It does not create a level playing field. Quite the contrary, it creates an un-even playing field.
Voltair creates the opportunity for broadcasters to be fairly rated, even with poorly encoding formats.
On Thursday June 11th Numeris issued a directive for broadcasters to turn off their Voltair processors for 60 days so that it could study Voltair’s impact on ratings.
Citing the need for a level playing field, it declared:
Numeris is currently undertaking a full analysis of encoding methodologies that have become available since the introduction of PPM. In the interim, the Numeris board has reaffirmed the importance of a level playing field and has requested that all stations using Voltair suspend use pending the outcome of the encoding review.
OK. We get it. Let’s take a look, they say. We’ll get back to you in 60 days.
What happened next, however, is hard to justify...or even explain.
Less than 24 hours later the board changed its mind. In an email it declared that, “in Numeris’s opinion the result of Voltair’s use is an increase in code density that may differentially impact data.”
It then instructed all station members to immediately remove Voltair claiming in bold letters that Canada’s Level Measurement Playing Field Must be Maintained.
Where do we begin.
It is the density of programming that determines code density. Ideally for accurate measurement PPM needs the densest material.
Formats that have the densest material have the densest encoding. That’s because the encoder can continually add codes to the programming.
(We’re simplifying a little here. Go back and read earlier posts to get a more complete picture of what’s going on.)
So PPM rewards formats with dense programming with lots of codes increasing the likelihood of proper station identification.
What happens if a format doesn’t have dense programming? The encoding becomes sporadic, adding codes only during those moments where there is enough material to mask the codes.
So formats with less dense dynamic programming don’t get codes inserted as often as the dense formats. That’s why some stations end up with big gaps in encoding, minutes with no codes.
Gaps equal lower ratings.
It is quite conceivable that there are well liked formats in Canada with large audiences that look weak in PPM ratings.
So Numeris is right. Voltair increases code density–-not by adding codes but instead by increasing the density of programming that the encoder can then use to add codes.
The encoding process itself does not change with Voltair.
Adding density to low density material helps the encoder do its job which means it levels the playing field for the formats that are being punished.
Formats like Classical, Jazz, Urban Oldies, News, Talk, Sports, and niche ethnic formats get the credit they deserve, and the listeners to those formats are finally heard from.
Numeris should welcome Voltair and encourage every station to add it to the audio chain.
Yes, it will help some stations more than others, but the stations that it will help most are the stations that have been hurt most by PPM.
Voltair only levels the playing field that PPM un-leveled.
Unlike Nielsen, Numeris is a not-for-profit, member-owned organization. Its responsibility is to its members, not to shareholders.
If Numeris is really concerned about the integrity of ratings and making sure ratings reflect the tastes of Canadian listeners, then it should realize that this knee-jerk reaction is wrong.
It needs to speak to independent experts rather than PPM stakeholders that are misrepresenting the issues and downplaying the technological flaws in PPM.