Nielsen’s plans to measure local television with PPM creates potentially grave problems for radio.
Radio’s prime hours are during the day. Television’s prime hours are during the evening.
Together, the two media’s prime hours span around fifteen hours.
Nielsen, however, only requires that PPM panelists carry their meters for eight hours a day, only five hours for school-aged panelists.
Keep the meter in motion for eight hours, the panelist is compliant, and she’s rewarded financially and other ways. Anything less and she gets a call from Nielsen’s Panel Relations Specialists.
In other words, the meter can sit docked in the charger for more than half the day and Nielsen’s Panel Relations Specialists will be happy, and the incentives (cash) will continue flowing.
Radio Insights noted the implications of compliance in a 2011 post Arbitron's Perverse PPM Panelist Incentives.
We observed back then that:
As far as the participant is concerned, Arbitron is measuring motion, not radio.
The incentives (and threats of losing incentives) encourage panelists to figure out how little they have to do to keep the money flowing.
The lead researcher in the sole independent study of PPM raised concerns about compliance noting:
It is inevitable that they (panelists) will resist this sometimes, or simply get caught up in their lives and forget about the audiometer (PPM meter) they are meant to be wearing.
Nielsen assures us that panelists carry the meter throughout the day, but if that were true why is the compliance requirement only eight hours, less than half the time span that the typical person might be exposed to encoded radio and television?
The reason is that Nielsen and Arbitron before that found that eight hours were about all the cooperation they could get from a panelist.
It already takes a whole building full of Panel Relations Specialists nudging, cajoling, and when all else fails threatening panelists just to get them to carry the meter for eight hours.
With the addition of television will Nielsen up the requirement to 10 hours or 12?
We doubt it. Large numbers of panelists would fall short of the required compliance and in-tabs would fall.
Maintaining the eight hour rule means that radio or television is going to get screwed. And it is not out of the question that both media get screwed.
If a panelist carries the meter for eight hours during the day, TV is screwed. If a panelist lays the meter next to the TV while she goes about her evening routine, radio is screwed.
As PPM rolled out in market after market radio stations saw listening levels drop. Yet radio remained silent and like lambs to the slaughter accepted PPM.
We doubt television people will be as docile if they see a similar drop in ratings.
We suspect Nielsen’s Panel Relations Specialists will play a central role in making sure that ratings don’t drop for local TV stations, radio be damned.