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What We’ve Learned from the Philly PPM … So Far
Useful insights for PPM and Diary Markets

by Gary Marince

With the successful launch of the Arbitron Portable People Meter as the official source of ratings in Philadelphia late last month, we’re witnessing history in the making: electronic ratings for radio is finally a reality. And as exciting as it is for markets who are converting to PPM, the lessons learned from Philadelphia and Houston are easily translatable to markets which may not see PPM anytime soon.

Keep in mind that PPM is actually a form of behavioral research. Among the benefits of using a panel of consumers who wear the PPM over a long period (as opposed to Diarykeepers who are engaged in the ratings process for only a week), we’re observing the same group of people using radio over time. We see how they change listening habits and often can associate why they do so. Programmers now have unprecedented insight into how people use and listen to radio.

So, what behaviors are we seeing and what lessons can we learn?  For programmers, the importance of P1 listening is paramount. It’s true that while the PPM picks up a lot of incidental or “light listening” (which adds to a station’s cume audience) a station’s “heavy listeners” still contribute most to the station’s success. Just as with the Diary, heavy listeners are essential to a station’s well-being. Just to recap: a P1 listener is defined by the station that listener spends more time with than any other station – most likely that listener’s favorite station.

Understanding P1s… their habits, their wants, needs and expectations is critical. In the past, P1s were treated as possessions (“these are my P1s!”). We all thought that “once a P1 to a particular station, always a P1 to that station.” However, what we’ve found through the PPM is P1s switch their “favorite station” to a greater degree than ever imagined. And the trigger for change can be something simple. So, we have to really understand why people use a particular station and then make certain that’s their experience each and every time they tune in.

One of the quickest improvements a station can make is to clean up the clutter. We in radio really need to be disciplined now, because we can watch people tune out when they’re not getting something they want from the station. If an air talent could see how disinterested listeners are in hearing about his trials and tribulations of finding a parking space on the way to work, they might be astonished. Make a note, “clutter - not good!”

We’re also seeing it’s really difficult to make someone listen to something they don’t want to listen to. PDs might be amazed to learn what little effect that Diary tricks have on real listening. Make another note, “I have to give people real reasons to tune in.”

Marketing now takes on a different meaning. As mentioned earlier, listeners change their radio habits. It’s pretty hard to classify someone as a P1 to a specific format because they can be listening to Country one week and move to Rock the next. But by monitoring changes such as this over time in the PPM data, we can identify patterns. In the past, where we may have been promoting with the hopes of finding new Rock listeners for our Rock station, we may now promote with the intention of reminding former listeners that, “we’re still here.”

As a matter of fact, this may be an argument for cross promotion among cluster stations. Before, if we saw a News station in high duplication with a music station, we’d likely dismiss the combo as “not real competitors.” But, an argument could be made for exploiting this behavior. If both stations are owned by the same group, a case might be made for cross promotion with the intent of increasing that kind of activity. If we know there’s a high predisposition for this kind of shared listening, it’s worth considering a marketing tactic which would pick up the listeners who are just listening to one station and not the other. It’s called “keeping it in the family.”

Another point worth noting: stations don’t have a “soft” quarter hour. The Diary taught us that listeners tuned-in around the top-of-the-hour. In reality, as is common sense, we can now substantiate that people are tuning in to stations every single second . . . of every minute . . . of every hour . . . of every daypart . . . of every day. And what people hear when they tune in will have a lot to do with whether or not they hang. We often refer to a station being “sticky” if listeners stay with a station once they tune to it.

If the station plays music, anything other than music that a listener hears is an excuse to leave. It’s true that the PPM uncovered a lot of evidence that listeners will stay with a station during a commercial break based on the expectation that a song is just a minute away. But it’s hard to imagine people hanging through prolonged stopsets the way stations try to bury spots in the “back” quarter hour. The PPM has clearly showed us that every quarter hour should be a representative sample of the station. No quarter hour is less valuable than any other.

If you work in a PPM market now or will be measured by PPM soon, one good practice to adopt is to keep a diary or log of your station’s programming and market events. The resolution or granularity of ratings is so detailed that when you see a day or week that pops or drops, you’ll want to have a reference in order to substantiate the rating’s swing.

When February numbers released in Philly, the 14th looked different for a handful of stations when compared against other days in the month. And stations who relied on at-work listening were impacted the most. Based on the ability to look back at a log or diary, it was determined that a brutal and unexpected snowstorm forced school closings and a lot of Philadelphians either couldn’t get to work or couldn’t get coverage for their kids who had the day off.

Regardless of format, the logs should note what’s going on with your station, your competition, the market, traffic, weather and anything which may influence radio listening - such as a big game or news story.

On a daily basis, we are gaining insights into how people listen to radio. We’ll pass them along as quickly as we can. In the meantime, if you have curiosities or questions about our diary or PPM service, please contact me through .

Gary Marince is Vice President of Programming Services for Arbitron Inc.  He can be reached at, or


Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings

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