Stakeholder Resistance and Negotiation and the Arbitron PPM

One of the issues I discuss in a fair bit of detail in Audience Evolution is the way in which any redefinition of the institutionalized media audience is typically the outgrowth of a sustained process of stakeholder resistance and negotiation. 

The recent announcement that Univision has, after years of resistance, finally decided to subscribe to Arbitron’s Portable People Meter service is the latest development in what has been a fairly long and contentious process of stakeholder resistance and negotiation surrounding this new audience measurement system.

Everyone from Congress to the FCC, to a handful of state attorneys general, to advertisers, and, of course radio broadcasters, has weighed in on — and to some extent influenced the development of — the PPM system, which is steadily replacing paper diaries in radio markets across the U.S.

On the surface, it might seem like there could be little reason why any of these stakeholders wouldn’t want the archaic paper diary system replaced with a much more technologically sophisticated electronic system. But accuracy is a very subjective thing when it comes to audience measurement.  One stakeholder’s more accurate system is another stakeholder’s fatally flawed system, depending upon what the new numbers look like. 

And in the case of the PPM, Spanish-language broadcasters in particular have felt that the new system is under-representing Hispanic listening, thereby costing them ad dollars and undermining the diversity of voices available on the airwaves by making it more difficult to serve minority audiences (this latter point is why federal and state governmental bodies have gotten involved).

In this instance, the PPM system has persevered.  It wasn’t stifled and snuffed out by stakeholder resistance, as has happened in the case of some emergent audience measurement systems.  But stakeholder resistance did slow the diffusion process and did contribute to methodological changes that have to some extent altered the portrait of the radio audience that this audience measurement system provides.

And so, as much as the nature of the technological changes taking place today would seem to compel — if not demand — radically revised approaches to the media audiences, such change tends to be slower in coming than we might expect, and can even move in different directions than we might expect, given the array of parties that are involved and interests that are at stake.

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