People Meter Study Winding Down

Arbitron will spend the rest of this year refining its research technique, hoping to give media buyers ratings that let them put measurable radio and TV together in campaigns for the first time.

The key is the Personal People Meter (PPM) Arbitron has been testing in the Philadelphia area since 2000, and a deal it hopes to sign with Nielsen next year to extend its use nationwide. The system, which Arbitron has worked on since 1992, has already delivered some valuable conclusions, vice president-communications Thom Mocarsky said.

"Radio is not necessarily a frequency medium, which is how buyers use it," he said. "It can also be considered a reach medium."

This is based on results described yesterday in Mediapost showing that people listen to twice as many stations as previously thought in the afternoons and evenings.

In the fall data" from diaries, Mocarsky said, only one station had a CUME over 20 in the diary. In the PPM, 13 stations had a CUME of 20. So the schedule reaches more people than you realize. But there's a price. While reach goes up, Time Spent Listening (TSL) goes down. If time is divided among more stations, the time with each station is down.

"Net-net the Average Quarter Hour (AQH) rating is the same," Mocarsky said. "What we're seeing is the see-saw is tilting differently."

These results end the "ratings comparison" phase of the Philadelphia trial, Mocarsky added. "Now we're into a research refinement phase." Users are being interviewed to learn more about their lifestyles and use of the meter, to learn why the PPM numbers were so different than from diaries.

"We're taking what we learned, seeing these insights, then asking about them to understand them in greater detail," he said. The research, an Arbitron initiative supported by Nielsen, is aimed at pushing Nielsen to make a decision next year on using PPM technology that can measure both TV and radio together.

"That's never been possible before," but the benefits for media buyers would be immense. If the ratings use the same methodology, "You can come up with a different type of media strategy. We can see how people are using multiple media."

The PPM is not dependent on Nielsen's decision, however. Mocarsky noted that Arbitron has signed deals to use the meters in Canada, France and Belgium. Arbitron is also looking to use the PPM as a media measurement tool in consumer panels.

"We've talked about a national panel of 50,000 meters, used in context with a consumer panel, designed to measure the influence of media on behavior," he said.

But once the research refinement is done, much of the future for PPM lies with Nielsen, he admitted. "If Nielsen says no, we would have to look at options for radio ratings. What would we have to do to deploy this as a radio-only tool? We would look to see if there were alternatives that would allow us to deploy this as a radio-only tool.

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