One of the things I talk about in a fair bit of detail in Audience Evolution is the process of intense stakeholder resistance and negotiation that accompanies the introduction of new audience information systems. And it was hard to find a more intense case of stakeholder resistance and negotiation than what accompanied Arbitron’s introduction of its Portable People Meter system for measuring radio audiences. Which is what makes this recent LA Times article particulalry interesting.
In contrast to years of the radio industry lambasting the PPM, filing lawsuits, complaining to Congress, and in some cases refusing to subscribe to the service, we now have statements like this one from a Clear Channel executive: “Overall, it’s [the PPM] probably created better programming for the listeners.” In this same article, we’ve got a public radio executive and a Spanish language radio executive both describing the PPM as “a significant improvement” in the measurement of radio audiences.
The truth, of course, was that nobody in the radio industry every really doubted that the PPM was a significant improvement in accuracy over the diary; but the bottom line is that new measurement systems inevitably lead to very different portraits of the media audience than were provided by the previous system. And so for example, as this article points out, the PPM initially led to diminished ratings for certain formats that attract extremely loyal listeners (such as Spanish-language stations and country music stations), because under the diary method, many loyal listeners to these formats were over-estimating their total time spent listening. And when the competitive dynamics of an industry can be suddenly reconfigured in unexpected ways, you can certainly expect certain vested interests to dig in their heals and try to at least slow the transition process.
But now that the transition has taken place (there are still lots of small markets that are not — and likely never will be — measured by the PPM), the predictions of doom and gloom for certain sectors of the radio industry that the PPM were supposed to make a reality have largely not come to pass.
As the LA Times article points out, programmers have quickly responded and adapted to the dynamics of this new measurement system; and, perhaps most important, we now have a more accurate sense of who uses radio, when they use it, and how they use it.