There’s been all kinds of controversy about the Portable People Meter (PPM) introduced by Arbitron. Numerous challenges have been levied against it and its accuracy, while many others have supported its methodology and heralded it as the next clear step in harvesting audience metrics. Like most things in life, I would be willing to bet that reality falls somewhere in between.
BBM Canada, basically the equivalent of Arbitron north of our borders, just released their first round of PPM data and some interesting aspects of the system have come to light. You see, the PPM data shows a huge upswing in the number of female listeners tuning in to sports radio.
The Globe and Mail‘s Bruce Dowbiggin looks at the effect:
Why the sudden surge in female numbers for sports-talk formats? As opposed to the traditional diary methods of the past (which were often filled in after the fact by a single listener), PPMs record everyone in the vicinity of a radio or TV signal. So wives and girlfriends within earshot of sports-radio shows are now being lumped into the raw data.
“It was a factor of what I call aspirational tuning,” [David] Bray [senior vice president at Hennessy & Bray Communications] said. “Women filling in the diaries just felt better about recording CBC or light rock instead of a sports station. Now they can’t self-edit themselves with the PPMs.”
I find this extremely interesting. PPM measures your ambient soundscape, including radio that you might “tune out” in the background. This creates a far more complete image of what a person is exposed to over the course of their average day. How much of it actually registers, or registers only on a subconscious level, is impossible to say at this point. I doubt a reliable measurement of that nature can actually be made.
I do think it is important to have a window into the audioscape of our listeners, even something you tune out can make an impression after repeat exposure. It is certainly something to think about.
I’m sure that the coming year or two (at least) will see a constant tug of war between Arbitron and Nielsen over what techniques of measurement are more accurate and why. Over time, competition should cause one or the other to field a truly superior product and approach. In the meantime, I advise keeping an eye on them both. Let’s see what the next level turns out to be.