Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A PPM Nightmare Story

Dan, a former Arbitron PPMer made this posting on the NewYorkRadioMessageBoard.com Monday:
Six weeks ago, our family became an Arbitron household. Today, UPS is supposed to come to pick up and send our equipment back to Maryland. We initially thought it would be fun, that we would be among a select group and have a say in how radio ratings are determined in the Hartford-Springfield market. Although my wife and I usually listen to satellite radio, we were told that the PPMs (about the size of an old pager that you clip on your belt) would be able to “detect” Sirius-XM’s “signals.”

Well, soon after we embarked on our PPM journey, the harassment began. Every day, we received several phone calls, and several emails, each time from a different Arbitron representative, asking us why my wife and I weren’t wearing our meters all the time.

When you wear it, a little green light stays on. But after 30 minutes of inactivity, the green light goes off. There’s also a base station that you have to connect to your telephone line, and when you go to sleep, households are told to put their PPMs in their respective “docks,” and Arbitron purportedly collects the “data” at some point in the early morning via the base station. It seems to me that Arbitron was more concerned with whether the devices were actually being worn as opposed to what we were actually listening to or watching (yes, watching – Arbitron told us “certain” TV channels, but not all of them, transmitted ratings’ signals – although this was the first time I had ever heard the company collecting television ratings – we always assumed that was Nielsen’s market).

To make a long story shorter, any time we would ask the Arbitron rep who called us to identify what we had watched or listened to, we were told that was a “different department” and that that kind of information wasn’t available to households in the first place.

Be that is it may, we were also eventually told that satellite radio “signals” were not retrievable by the PPMs. After a month and half of harassment about our “poor participation” in the program, we have given up, and decided to opt out. Yes, any time we watched TV or listened to the radio, we had our PPMs with us. Not good enough, apparently. You have to wear it 24/7!

It may be the cynic in me who says the entire program is fraudulent, but at any rate, it wasn’t even a year ago that the company’s CEO resigned after lying to Congress in testimony about the portable people meter (I’m including an article from the Washington Post from January 2010 below). Households are also supposed to be compensated for their time, and even though we didn’t have a profit motivation in embarking on this endeavor, all we got was a $5 bill each over the course of the month-and-a-half we were participants.

I can’t help but wonder how harassing willing families every day by phone and email could possibly serve as an inducement for us to be “more active” in our PPM participation. It may be that Arbitron, not to mention the entire radio industry, is hanging on for dear life in today’s media atmosphere. After all, kids don’t listen to the radio at all!

One more thing: each week, Arbitron allegedly gives one select family in the country “$500.” Each household is entered into a lottery, or so we were told. Do these little meters actually sense what we are listening to? Do radio stations send out secret signals to enable Arbitron to identify what media we’ve been experiencing? As a former broadcaster, I was initially a willing participant in the PPM program, excited that I might be able to influence how ratings work. After six weeks, I reached the conclusion that it’s not worth the effort. I can only imagine that people who have never worked in radio would be even less willing to tolerate Arbitron’s harassment.

There is a disclaimer at the bottom of Arbitron’s PPM web page that reads as follows: “PPM ratings are based on audience estimates and are the opinion of Arbitron and should not be relied on for precise accuracy or precise representativeness of a demographic radio market.”

Sounds like a solid business model.

Tom's Take:  Arbitron clients should probably bve pleased that Arbitron is constantly contacing PPM participants who aren't doing what they promised to do. What Arbitron is asking PPM users to do doesn't seem all that annoying or difficult. At worse, when they get up in the morning they are asked to click the PPM device to their belt. When they go to sleep they are asked to return it to its charging dock from which it phones home with the data. There is even a newer device that uses the cell phone network and doesn't require docking. For more on the habits of PPM users, click here.

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