Monday, May 24, 2010

The Verbs Of PPM, More Passive Than Active

Someone (or everyone?) at Country Aircheck must be a sports fan, given their propensity of reaching for very colorful verbs each time a new monthly metered or quarterly diary book comes out as they describe the country station trends.

The problem: with PPM sample sizes about one-third the size of the diary survey samples, the "ups," "flats," and "downs" from survey to survey in PPM, except for one or two very high cume stations, are quite often fractional at most, making trends about as logical many times as the chart countdown wobbles Lon, Kix, Bob, Lorianne & Charlie et al have to cope with every weekend (“up to number 36 from last week’s number 37, but down from three weeks’ ago’s number 34..”).

In diaries, with 48 completely separate weekly samples in the continuous measurement markets, it’s normally possible to trend four or five surveys and make sense (trending up, staying flat or trending downward) of at least three or four of the books.

This is especially true if you average the four books of each year and look at four book averages over several years. A little more of a stretch in two book per year markets, but still possible.

How many years will it take before we are able to credibly do that with PPM data?

I guess I shouldn’t complain since all of the Albright & O’Malley clients with PPM in April were up as the majority of country stations "sagged."

However, ESPN and Fox Sports are able to use active verbs like “smashed,” “vanquished” and “blew out,” but in PPM, the often-very-diplomatic choice of verbs in CA last week indicates that we’re not quite “there” yet when it comes to the consistency of the metered panels.

For example, Arbitron PPM “verb ratings” used by Lon, Chuck, Jeff and their reporters for the period of April 1-28 for all country stations do seem to say that the start of baseball season, placating minority broadcasters with extra careful placement of black and Hispanic households, the gulf oil spill (or something!) was unkind to us as a format:

11 (positive)

tied its best share
edged ahead
nudged forward
inched up
moved up
stepped within a share

7 (neutral)

was steady
held even
was level
held steady
held firm

26 (ways to nicely deliver bad news)

was down but moved up (yes, really = share down/rank up)
shed a tenth
was off
was down
stepped back
was down
was off

8-10% of PPM homes move in/out of the sample each month and very few of these moves were that big, so perhaps that could have been it. After all, it only takes it one heavy user family who loves your station coming into the sample to make ratings day a party (but get ready for a wake when that same home inevitably leaves the panel between seven months and more than two years later).

And, of course, families will be heading away to summer vacations in the next few weeks, perhaps making that percentage of panelists in the sample for the next 90 days slip, slow, step back, decline, ease, etc.

So, can the verbs of PPM really describe the moves in popularity of radio stations? Or are they just the vagaries of a much-too-small sample?


Country Aircheck said...

On today’s client conference call, Arbitron acknowledged that there was “more PPM encoding” in April, thanks to agreements worked out with several Spanish-language broadcasting companies.

That affected the ratings in Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Antonio and San Diego. In San Antonio, where the two leading Country stations combined lost 3.6 shares (-21.2%) in one month,

KAJA PD Travis Moon told Country Aircheck, “Shares were down for most stations here due to Univision finally being encoded and [its five stations] included in the ratings info for the first time. The pieces of the pie got smaller as a result. It’s an apples-and-oranges comparison from pre-April.”

Dave Sullivan said...

Great blog. You sum it up perfectly when you point to the fact that the per person values are so much higher for Meter then they were for Diary. Here's the problem: when a market was diary, you could see the # of diaries and how many 'heavy diaries' you had. PPM data does not allow you to see the number of meters and how many of them were heavy. So there's no easy way for a station to remain modest when they have even ten great months in a row!