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.

A New Reality

“The fight for Control was a fight for Distribution. The flght for Attention is a fight for Trust. The beneficiaries of Control were Monopolies. The beneficiaries of Trust are those that Collaborate.” – Gerd Leonhard, Media Futurist

You may have gotten the email from Sgt. Howard Wright, USMC, about how Starbucks has refused to support the troops by making their coffee available to them, because they don’t support the war.  Sgt. Wright’s email has been forwarded to millions of other supporters of the military asking we drop our support of Starbucks because of their poilicy.

Unfortunately, it’s not true.

You may have also heard about the person in Chicago who twittered out that a certain property management firm rented moldy apartments.  They were promptly sued by the property management company, even though this person had only 20 followers.  The people of the net immediately responded in support, and of course the Tweet about moldy apartments was forwarded to hundreds of thousands of others, doing far more damage than the original Tweet to 20 people.

Unfortunately, it’s true.

In pre-Internet days you might have sued someone infringing or defaming your station, just as the property management company did.  But today, we need to respond to digital developments with digital solutions.  If the property management company had just contacted the complainer, say by Twitter for example, they could have probably avoided a negative nightmare and instead gotten positive feedback.

It’s called the “Striesand Effect,” after Barbara, who didn’t like a picture of her beachfront home being seen in a digital book about the California coast.  Attempts to get the picture removed resulted in the picture, and accompanying story, taking flight throughout the Internet many, many more thousands of places.  420,000 to be exact.  It’s even spurred a blog about other like events.  It could wind up as popular as snopes.com.

If you haven’t had a digital injury like those above, chances are you will.  It was only a little while ago I was explaining to some very bright radio people that they didn’t want to issue a cease & desist to a person who had started up their own Facebook fan site for the station.  First off that fan site had almost as many “friends” as the official station site, and secondly, if they’d done that it would have gone through Facebook and the rest of the blogosophere like wildfire.  Instead I suggested they contact the Facebook station fan and invite him to come in and learn more about the station, and then help him stay in touch with his fan site.

Not fair! you cry.  Maybe so, but we’re not in control in the same way we used to be a few years ago, especially on the Internet.  Where you once saw copyright notices on pages, you’re now more likely to see instructions on how to distribute it yourself.  We need to learn about these things, and be ready to put our digital thinking cap on before we react.  We need to understand the End Of Control that’s a new part of our reality.  There are times when trying to do what you think is the “right thing” can result in a much larger wrong being visited on you.

Control Vs. Viral

“There is early evidence of a more pragmatic recognition that value is shifting. With a recasting of the value proposition with respect to content, it becomes less necessary to over-control the content itself, more useful to have that content widespread, and increasingly possible to recoup more revenue on value-added services built around the content and its community of use.”  Paul Miller, technology evangelist for the United Kingdom-based company, Talis

While that quote is a bit to get through, it’s also important to our glimpse into the future.  What it says in simple terms is that it’s more important to have your content move around the Internet than it is to try to control it.  Once upon a time you’d see the @ sign on the Internet indicating copyright and threats if you were to use it.  Now you’re more likely to see “share this,” and instructions for how to use it.

CBS in LA is doing something I like.  Ampradio (ampradio.com) is the most integrated radio/web 2.0 approach I’ve seen so far.  The content on the web site is updated frequently, and there’s always a reason to come back to see what’s new.  Since the web site is designed on a blog platform, it’s easy to update and the listeners can comment on almost everything on the site.

Most radio stations, however, and a stogy web 1.0 approach and strategy.  You have to wait for the web department to update something, and the emphasis is on design – how pretty it is – rather than function.  It’s a static magazine instead of something interactive.  It’s old news.

Ampradio is on it’s way to mastering one of the four points necessary to create a future – they are connecting the listener with the station.  I look forward to watching how they develop it.