December 7, 2012

How to Be a Number One PPM Draft Pick
By Jon Miller

Jon Miller

One of my favorite times of the year for sports is just beginning: college football bowl season. Love or hate the BCS, it’s great to watch the biggest college stars and speculate on who has the most potential to play and succeed in the NFL.                 
          What keeps it interesting is that success at the next level is never a sure thing. Even the most talented college athletes can have problems making the transition to the NFL. More than a few first round picks turned out to be busts while players no one thought would make an impact became success stories and dominated at the professional level.  It’s hard to predict who will thrive in the pros because, while the game remains essentially the same, the speed and intensity go up markedly. In many ways the same is true for program directors looking to make the leap from a diary market to one measured by the Portable People Meter (PPM). The fundamentals of the game are the same, but if you want to win at the next level it becomes even more important to always be at your peak and to pay attention to every detail.
         For example, in college football some offenses may struggle to move the ball on a given series but that doesn’t necessarily mean the game is lost because a weak defense may allow a chance later in the game. In the NFL each possession becomes that much more important because the competition is much tougher and having to punt after a “three and out” can be much more costly.                                        
          In diary markets there’s a little more latitude to play a deeper cut or to allow a host to wander a little off-track because it only impacts one week of a twelve week survey.  It’s much different in PPM markets because the panel is the same size on a given day or week.  Therefore, in PPM markets every minute counts.  Really great content will stand out but unfocused bits or weak songs will also have a much more immediate effect. The game is much faster in PPM markets and the competition is less forgiving.  Therefore, programming in a PPM market is all about managing your game every single minute.     
         Successful programming in PPM markets also requires a greater emphasis on occasions of listening; finding ways to increase how many times each day a listener tunes to your station. Analysis of the last five years of PPM data shows that the highest rated stations stand out by getting their listeners to tune-in (occasions) more often.                                      
         Boosting occasions impacts the ratings heavily because the time spent for each occasion doesn’t vary a lot in PPM markets. Across all stations, highly rated or not, each occasion averages about 10 minutes.  Even the best programmers can’t get listeners to stick around much longer each time they tune in.  What makes the winners stand out is getting listeners to come back to the station MORE OFTEN.                                                                                          
         I should note here that occasions of listening are also important in diary markets where we see that top performing stations generally get more tune-ins from listeners than their lower rated competitors do. But, the importance of getting people to come back more often is magnified in PPM markets much like how turnovers in college tend to be damaging but less costly to a team than in they are in the NFL.                                                                                         
         Players moving from college football to the pros also face a higher level of scrutiny and attention.  Professional teams collect and analyze far more data about every aspect of the game.                                                                                   
         The same is true in moving from a diary to a PPM market. The data generated by the meter is much more detailed and arrives weekly instead of monthly. Plus there are a variety of new tools including PD Advantage Web, the Analysis Tool, TapscanWeb and the Audience Reaction Service from Media Monitors to help you manage every aspect of the game from every imaginable angle. That can be a pretty big adjustment for a new PD to handle.                                     
          The quickest way to start is the Vital Signs report in PD Advantage Web. It has everything you need to begin analyzing your station’s performance. Then, if you want other suggestions for reports to look at take a look at an article I wrote for FMQB earlier this year about how to break out a book or feel free to send a note to the programming services team here at Arbitron. We’d be happy to help.      
          Much like press and fan scrutiny ratchets up for NFL players and coaches, programmers who are new to PPM should also brace themselves for higher levels of attention. Having new ratings data arrive every week means programmers will be asked more frequently by station general managers, sellers and programming staffers to explain what’s happening. For suggestions on navigating those minefields you may want to revisit my other recent FMQB articles about explaining the ratings to sellers and on-air talent.
          Finally let me suggest that the most important thing to remember is that the fundamentals are the same whether you’re playing the game at the collegiate level or at the professional level.  While there are some different rules and you’ll be playing against a different class of competition at the higher level, winning is still about blocking and tackling, holding onto the ball, teamwork and execution.       
          In radio programming your station’s branding is still paramount.  Even though the PPM is a passive system – meaning it automatically detects listening– establishing and maintaining a strong brand for your station remains the most vital game changer whether you are in a diary or PPM market.    
          And just like when a coach tells his team that they need to get back to the fundamentals, a program director needs to concentrate on branding fundamentals and make sure listeners know who their station is for and what makes it unique. Sure the underlying methodology can make a difference but everyone plays by the same rules.  More often than not the winners are those who excel at the fundamentals of the branding game.

Follow the Arbitron Programming Services Team online at and on Twitter at @ArbProgramming.


Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings

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