The “Portable People Meter” Promises Greater Accuracy in Radio Ratings


In the cities of Houston, Texas, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Arbitron has been test driving a new electronic ratings system called The Portable People Meter. The system is poised to launch in 14 American cities, according to an announcement today by broadcaster Entercom Communications Corp.

Wikipedia gives us a concise description of how the system works:

The Portable People Meter (sometimes mistakenly “Personal People Meter”) or PPM, is a device developed by Arbitron to measure how many people are listening (or at least exposed) to individual radio stations and television stations, including cable TV. The PPM is worn like a pager, and detects hidden audio tones within a station or network’s audio stream, logging each time it finds such a signal. It has proved to be much more accurate than the old handwritten logs or wired meters, and is immune to forgetful test subjects.

This a huge step forward from the pen and paper approach that has been used in the radio industry since the 1960s. Until recently, ratings services would pay listeners to keep a hand-written log of what they listen to — a process that is open to bias and misreporting. Finally, a more objective means of gathering data is on the horizon.

Steve Knopper at Wired Magazine applauds the advance in technology:

Now, with the introduction of its Portable People Meter, the company [Arbitron] is on the verge of a radical leap into the present. The BlackBerry-sized gadget clips to listeners’ clothing, eliminating the log. Participating broadcasts are encoded with an inaudible ID code, which is picked up by a sensor in the device — whether you’re bopping to Kylie Minogue in your car or swaying to Air Supply in the produce aisle. “Your only job is to carry it,” says Arbitron’s Thom Mocarsky. “And we know when you do.”

After five years of testing, the system was rolled out in New York and Houston this summer. It’ll go nationwide by 2010. Eventually Arbitron will have 70,000 deployed, all but banishing survey bias from the ratings. All this is good news for Aerosmith fans. Rock stations have been losing ground to hip hop, Spanish, and talk, but they score high on the People Meter.

PPM has the potential to rewrite some basic assumptions about listening habits and the impact of commercials. As the sample group expands to more cities there should be a lot of useful data generated. Take a look at the current cities listed on Arbitron’s PPM page, including lists of participating stations, technical briefings and a wide variety of additional data:

One reason advertising has gravitated to the Internet is not that it’s more effective than broadcast advertising but that it’s more trackable. If radio is reaching consumers, and no one can document it, ad sales will be lost. This technology should make it easier to quantify the reach of broadcast radio, enabling ad sales reps to approach accounts with the confidence of accurate tracking.


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2 Responses to “The “Portable People Meter” Promises Greater Accuracy in Radio Ratings”

  1. Pages tagged "inaudible" Says:

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  2. Reader’s Top of the Charts: Radio News Hits of 2008 « Radio 2020 Says:

    […] consistent attention was a post about a new system for measuring audience numbers.  “The ‘Portable People Meter’ Promises Greater Accuracy in Radio Ratings” began the chronicle of the the PPM, Arbitron’s wireless device for measuring the audio […]

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