When you describe to friends outside the radio business how the ratings are conducted, they’re generally aghast. The description of diary respondents being asked to keep track of their listening for a week in a pamphlet is scary enough. When you add in that the diary represents hundreds or thousands of other listeners, it gets downright terrifying. And, if diary methodology is bad, PPM is worse. At a gathering over the holiday weekend, upon hearing about the pager-sized meters, a friend asked, “Why don’t they use smartphones?” Indeed.
Still, the meters are better, right? Well, maybe. There’s the matter of sample size (and I didn’t even venture into the challenges of codes being not picked up by the meters). There’s the matter of instability within the panels. And all of this is attached to a business that, while still healthy, has a PR problem. After all, the new car they’re looking at comes with Pandora and/or Spotify in the infotainment system, in addition to SiriusXM that’s in the car they’re looking to replace. Regular folks hear a lot about the additional competition faced by the radio business and rarely a word about the sheer scale of the audiences maintained by terrestrial radio.
I hadn’t intended to end up telling scary stories; Halloween was weeks ago. I recounted a PD friend who used to become violently ill facing the monthly download of numbers in the Arbitrends days. I laid out the new reality for PD’s in PPM markets, having Sunday mornings ruined waiting for the raw numbers from Media Monitors – and then having to guess about how the actual numbers will reflect that early indication when they’re released … three weeks later.
For balance, I talked about the good times, when the numbers go up and stay up for a while. Celebrations. Increased budgets. Until a panelist takes a vacation and the numbers falter. The questions from above: Is the meter out of the panel for good or just on vacation? Is something wrong with the music? Has a competitor found a way to take a meter from us?
I recalled a multi-year analysis we’d done years ago for a diary market. The analysis showed that the station’s rises and falls, which had resulted alternately in bonuses during the perceived good times and firings in the perceived bad times, were wobbles within the confidence interval laid out in the ratings methodology.
So, my friends asked, “Why do people take those jobs?” I talked about the money in the best cases. I talked about the opportunities to mingle with music stars and celebrities. I talked about stations serving listeners during emergencies, staying on the air through hurricanes and snowstorms. I talked about it still being fun to do (some of the time, at least). And I talked about the satisfaction talking to listeners at station appearances, hearing about how deeply engrained stations can become in the lives of some listeners.
Here’s to the PD’s, those crazy people living with Nielsen-based uncertainty every moment of every day. We love you all.