If you have, you probably reacted with a mix of confidence and disappointment. Confidence because a listener actually took the time to write down the stations she listened to.
Disappointment because her writing probably wasn’t very neat, or she mixed up call letters and frequency, or she just drew a line down the page.
Ever seen a PPM panelist’s recorded listening?
You can’t. PPM listening patterns are invisible. They’re just digital files stored away somewhere.
A completed listening diary may seem primitive by digital standards, but it is a lasting record of which radio stations one person listened to and when.
You can look at it, feel it, and gain some confidence that the ratings estimates that you live and die by reflect what real people listened to.
And there’s a sniff test you can apply. From time to time you can spot something that just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s multiple diaries all filled out identically. Maybe editing mistakes were made attributing listening to the wrong station.
Radio station personnel have caught errors so great that whole books have been reissued.
It is one reason why countries like the U.K. continue to use diaries.
In contrast to the simple transparency of a diary, PPM is opaque. The process is invisible every step of the way from panelist data collection, to editing, to production of the ratings.
Now complex algorithms replace transparency and the ability to apply a sniff test at the participant’s level.
Arbitron never claimed the diary method was perfect or flawless. How could they? Radio people could see the mistakes in the diaries, and pointed them out.
Do you think Nielsen’s PPM is perfect?