Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stable Numbers For Who?

It’s seemingly time to learn a new step in the PPM dance as Arbitron implements new panelist expiration rules (that now look a lot more like Canada’s BBM has been doing all along), promising less “bounce” in the estimates from month to month.

Obviously, if you’re the top station in a category, that’s a good thing. But, if you’re hoping to improve your share, waiting longer for a shot at new panelists may not be quite so attractive.

At present 46 U.S. and Canadian markets have country radio stations being measured by PPM.

Let’s look closely at one, where there are three radio stations basically tied for #1 6+ within four tenths of a share of each other. The next tier is two stations within another 0.4 of a share of each other, roughly tied for #2 rank. Below them in rank is three more stations, more-or-less all tied for #3, just 0.2 shares away from each other. Under them there are eight stations within 0.7 of a share apart from each other, statistically tied for "#4."

This market has two very competitive country stations, with each one's cume just 3% away from each other.

Yet, one of the two is in the “tied for #3” ranker grouping. The other has a 6+ share 25% lower, amidst the “tied for #4” bunch, meaning that a buyer either really has to want to purchase two country stations OR be willing to go at least nine to seventeen stations deep to buy them - in spite of the fact that the two are separated in “share” by less than one point.

Drilling down to what gives the country leader in this market that 25% edge, there are 14 100+ quarter hour panelists which use one of the two country stations and each one is the favorite station of seven of them. The difference between them is that the top station gets about 25% more “time spent exposed” (TSE) from their heavy users than the lower-ranked one.

A few things that could change the ratings for either or both:
  1. A shift in the panel of one household.
  2. The lower rated station plugs the leaks in their panelists’ usage and improves their TSE and the other one fails to respond in kind (can you say commercial free hours?)
  3. One or both of them greatly improves their programming, drawing more cume
  4. One of them gives up on country and changes format, so that the other one gets all 14 country ultra core panelists and suddenly becomes the market’s #1 radio station.
  5. If the month happened to be September, one of the two stations’ panelists went away for a Labor Day holiday, while the other station’s panelists had to work that weekend.
  6. A heavy user of one of the two stations got the flu and stayed home for a few days.
I admire ARB for listening to their clients and attempting to minimize monthly wobbles, but more of these possibilities come from real life from from sampling issues.

And, if I rank in that “tied for #4” eight this month, I am actually hoping for a nicer bounce next time!

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