The Failure Of PPM

If consumers are asked to make greater sacrifices than industry, this country is going to have the greatest shortage of all-consumers.” – Betty Furness

Several of we radio people met in Annapolis last week for the annual update on PPM from Arbitron.  As I listened to the information and thought about what I’ve read in the trades I decided I must be on another planet.  I don’t think the failure of PPM is with Arbitron at all, I think its with we radio people.

PPM is different, but it’s not necessarily wrong.  The standard diary tricks we’ve been trying for years don’t seem to work with it, so obviously there’s a flaw in the methodology.  Or is it the number of meters in a market?  It can’t be our lack of understanding of it, right?

Many of you may not appreciate my perspective, but the digital world is causing us all kinds of challenges because we can’t control it.  While it’s important to make sure Arbitron is providing a solid product, I can’t help thinking we’re just having trouble adjusting to the real world.  Silly listeners want to think they’re becoming in charge now, and that doesn’t fit with the Excel-like numbers approach Wall Street broadcasters like so much.  For years we complained about the diary methodology, and when we finally get something that measures actual, real-time listening we don’t like it because it isn’t always returning the same results as the diary.

Sometimes it seems like we’re caught in a nightmare sitcom.  A presenter at the Arbitron seminar says that stations which run fewer commercials have less tune-out.  But we respond with, “yes but I have to run that many commercials to be viable.”  OK, no problem.  But then don’t expect the listeners to like it.  The missing part of the equation is that we want to be able to play more commercials AND not have the listeners tune out.  When that doesn’t happen we punish first the programmers for not producing miracles, and then the listeners by providing more syndication.  This in turn causes more tune-out, and even more dangerously less tune-in.  Second verse same as the first.

Is there another business where people would think this is smart?  If there’s a failure there I’ve yet to be convinced it’s with Arbitron – they seem to be working to craft a lot better product that we are.  I think it’s with our inability to deal with change, and refusal to accept reality.

Change is difficult.  But failure is even worse.