Thursday, August 23, 2007

Photo by Ron Fell. Very cool, thank you, Ron!

"The arts and institutions of men are created out of thought. The powers that make the capitalist are metaphysical, the force of method and force of will makes trade, and builds towns." Emerson

"Seek those who find your road agreeable, your personality and mind stimulating, your philosophy acceptable, and your experience helpful. Let those who do not, seek their own kind." Henri Fabre

"When a great man has some object in view to be achieved in a given time, it may be absolutely necessary for him to walk out of all the common roads." Burke

A bunch of chatter this week about Arbitron's new Portable People Meter (PPM), the device being rolled out to replace the paper diaries used to capture radio listening behaviors. The subject is of great interest to radio broadcasters as it should be. Arbitron is hosting one of their consultant fly-in events at the Columbia, MD campus today. A meeting I'm sorry to miss due to other work. Congrats and kudos to Steve Morris, Pierre Bouvard, Gary Marince, Ron Rodrigues, Dr Ed Cohen, Bob Patchen and the Arbitron team for keeping the conversation alive, the parties engaged and doing so with transparency.

Some thoughts on PPM.

I began going to school on PPM over a decade ago when I was introduced to Dr. Roberta McConochie. She was then director of strategic research for Arbitron, leading the Pathfinder program and working in the area of new media. What impressed me most about Dr McConochie was not her measured speech, nor her gracious manner in making the complex simple. It was her curiosity. She had done her homework, she was asking great questions. My thought was she needed to be heard, she deserved an audience with industry. We were fortunate to have her accept our invitation to speak at The Conclave. The first session at an industry conference dedicated to PPM happened in Minneapolis one summer day many years ago. I moderated the session which was attended by a small group of about twenty-five programmers. We were too far ahead of the curve, not one trade pub made mention of the ground breaking event.

Now that PPM is no longer a science project but a practical reality, whenever two or more are gathered in the name of radio PPM is a hot topic of discussion. Overnight we have scores of PPM experts offering station and group folks assistance. Some of these same experts would have us believe they are qualified to confront Arbitron and take the lead in what amounts to an ongoing ratings police action. My opinion is most of these so-called experts are not qualified to discuss the subject matter at any serious depth. Suggesting one knows how to game the new system seems premature (to be polite about it). These same know-it-alls would not likely finish a basic undergrad course in statistics with honors much less be able to hold their own in any graduate level survey research lab. However, as Buzz Bennett famously said "Everyone has the right to program." It's radio where everyone actually does enjoy that right to program. Moreover, every programmer can claim, with little if any objection, to be a research and ratings expert. Seems to me too many are doing just that. Bottom line: the job of the program director is to deliver numbers to the sales department. If a PD is not able to do that they need to find other work.

Reading all of the rants about PPM over the last few weeks reminds me that some working in the programming trade should think before they opine. A sidebar: in my experience a good third of radio programmers are at home in the camp of grassy knoll theorists. Their particular brand of skepticism tainted with unwarranted notions of conspiracy. Like all fanatics they are vocal. Theirs is a repertoire rich with old programmer's tales, of finding black magic at work in Beltsville. About the single household that made a competitor #1, how they caught the arbiter red-handed and saved the day. They hold the belief that Arbitron's flawed methodology is the real and only reason why their station (or their format) has failed to move the needle. The station's not sick, it's sample size and methodology that's to blame, again! They are convinced beyond all empirical evidence to the contrary that their station, their format is in reality a winner and simply not getting proper listening credit. Further, some few of this group are convinced Arbitron is out to undo them, an evil enterprise dedicated to passing off slipshod research as good. Arbitron as the wily fox that must be watched.

A friend who works at Arbitron once said "When the phone rings it's never good news. No one ever calls us to say 'you guys rock' this book got it right, my station is #1 and we thank you." Seems to me the industry conversation is too frequently moved by the losers, those deprived of the higher ranker positions needed to generate the instant rainfall of "push print and buy" orders, the related waves of cash and the adulation of an industry and its trade pubs. These ratings starved folks are often unwilling to admit their own role in the poor showing, they tend to be talented makers of original excuses and, sometimes, it is even within their power to elevate rationalizing failure into persuasive dramatic art. While the experienced few may understand the true nature of estimates (i.e., one data point is high, another low and a third perhaps closest to the reality of the measured moment) too many others seek absolute truth at a discount when no such solution is possible nor practical.

Research is expensive, it's hard work and yet it remains an estimate. And that's the reality of survey research - it produces estimates. Chance error, sample bias, and the vagaries of any new method of capture, collection and data architecture are all baked in to that effort. We must accept and at some point trust that the arbiter will do their best, do what they must to produce a credible and reliable product and in doing so get and keep our business. Good research is never cheap and cheap research is never good.

PPM is a good idea but we've all got a lot of learning to do to make the best of it. Like any attempt to capture human behavior it is complex, a major challenge of multivariate proportions. It requires and deserves the ongoing attention of the research and user communities. Let's keep the conversation candid, the analysis serious and studied, and the debate informed. We must demand the rigor of intellectual honesty above all else. Now that we do have the first working meter, let's all agree to keep our discussions and initiatives to improve this new technology dialed up to eleven.

Closed circuit to Arbitron: don't let the hacks get you down.

LATER: A bunch of email response to this post. About 50% favorable, 40% unfavorable and 10% saying it is too early to tell how good or bad PPM will be for radio in contrast to how radio has done with diary capture. The majority of comments submitted have been negative. Because comments are moderated here I have deleted over fifty for one of three reasons 1) profanity - I would edit the language but then these comments would look like redacted FOIA documents, almost every fourth word being an expletive - I'm taking a pass. Bring on the conspiracy comments. 2) incoherent 3) off topic (e.g., "hey cheesehead your packers lost last night, who's crying now big fella"). My thanks to those that have joined the conversation. More next week.

Have a great weekend.

OK - so we'll start up another blog, one dedicated to PPM. Your suggestions, comments, and contributions are invited. Let's put it right here.


kybroadcaster said...

David, you continue to write what many of us think. Arbitron bashing is a recognized sport. We finally cut one of our PDs after hearing the same tired story about how our failure to win ratings was not his fault it was the diary placement, sample, etc etc.
Funny, our competitors didn't seem to share our Arbitron problem. One year later and we are better off, in the top five and no longer blaming people outside of our building.

I know you have long been a fan of PPM as a way of confirming the power of radio's reach. Our challenge as an industry is to learn how to make that value clear to advertisers in specific the big shops. Is this not the job of RAB? Would this not be a mission for Jeff Haley in year two (and beyond), the win you said he was in need of?

Enjoy reading your blog. p.s. your talk at the Kentucky broadcasters was inspiring, we now use a daily dashboard AND IT WORKS!!!

Anonymous said...

Your writing is exceptional. My fear is PPM will bring on another era of PD as wizard. The new methods give PDs a brand new vocabulary of buzz words and custom made excuses. Hoping I am wrong about this. I want our team to win as opposed to spending valuable time delegating blame and arguments about who shot John. Thank you for putting all of this change into the black and white of business reality. My view on RAB/Haley is we was robbed. That gentleman owes us a refund - nothing accomplished in his first year worth talking about. You might be right on the beer guy however the NAB has a new momentum of sorts, alive again!!

Anonymous said...


You are so wrong. Why can you not see what is happening here. Arbitron has milked the last drop from the diary and is giving us ppm. More expensive, better profits, another thirty years of good times. I expected hacks like Sabo, Jacobs and the others to buy into this garbage but not you. What a shame that a smart guy like you has fallen for the ppm bs. You need to wake up and get real. Stop being a pr guy for ppm.

Bob said...

Dave do you believe that LHO acted alone in Dallas that day? Can you not take your own advice and see things as they are? Arbitron and the megagroups are changing the rules to their advantage for a blatant reason, to crush the little guy and continue the consolidation of a once great industry. PPM will be the death of urban and minority radio a job the diary could not get done will be accomplished by the new world of meters. You are missing the BIG PICTURE the rich are getting richer. Most of what you write is worth the read but not this time. You are living proof smart people can be fooled. Dave you are drinking the KoolAid and you sir are the hack.

Anonymous said...


You are one of the smartest guys in show biz but this time around you got it dead wrong. You praise the good doctor for asking great questions yet you fail to do the same. Why does Arbitron not release meter-level data? We now have access to diary-level data, whats the big dif? Why does Arbitron not provide real-time minute by minute access to data (Neilsen does for TV)? Too many important questions are going unanswered. Conspiracy? Nope. Cover-up is more apt. The only logical explanation is they are not ready to have us paying customers look under the hood, we may find out what the real deal is and that is ppm is NOT ready for primetime. Now we learn that stations with listeners that work full time will be higher rated than stations with listeners who do not. This literally means stations with young audiences including students and older audiences will be biased AGAINST. Suggestion - spend more time writing about leadership, marketing and the internet. On those you shine, on ppm you fail to deliver. Disappointing.

Madison said...

reading your blog was a pleasure until today, you inspire others to think, to go for greatness but now you've become a morris moonbat, GET A GRIP

Anonymous said...


Congrats or as you would say "bravo"

You have told it like it is and, well, it's a pain filled moment of change and the troops don't like change. To heat up matters more it is Arbitron moving the cheese. Too much to take. Had to laugh out loud at your comment about "talented makers of original excuses"; we've all had the horrible experience of working with the PD we had to dis-invite from sales meetings for that very reason. In closing, don't let the hacks get YOU down.

dave said...

From email:

David, will you not agree that after fifteen years and $100 mil (approx) the PPM roll out is not what it should now be? Your points on hacks and bad PDs aside (agreed on those), you mentioned but left short the learning issue. Education of buyers and sellers is this radio management generation's race to the moon or Manhattan project. A sea change deserving of way more attention than the whining of PDs and consultants. Thanks for all you do, your blog is must reading for this DOS.

dave said...

From email:

David, thanks for another great writing. The yardstick may change but the job at hand is the same - get the ratings the sales department needs to get the revenue. So clear, so simple, yet this basic fact of business is getting lost in all the noise about the new meter methodology. Cheers to you for again boiling it down to the basics.

Emily said...

Survey says,

% of N=1 posts which are brilliant, print and save stuff = 30

% of N=1 posts providing interesting insight with cool links = 20

% of N=1 posts containing at least one killer quotation = 50%

% of N=1 posts featuring stuff that makes you think to the point it makes your head hurt, in a good way ;) = 25%

% of N=1 posts proving DM is a blowhard moron = 1% INCLUDING THIS POST. PPM is a bad, bad idea.

Dan Kelley said...


After reading the comments posted thus far a couple of thoughts:

Professional PDs don't make excuses - rather they find answers. This means with the support of their ownership and management.

Don't cut the research budget and expect answers easily.

One anonymous commenter above wrote: "Now we learn that stations with listeners that work full time will be higher rated than stations with listeners who do not. This literally means stations with young audiences including students and older audiences will be biased AGAINST."

Well...yeah....if "bias" means reality.

Hate to spend bandwidth on the obvious - but workers commute (with the radio), work eight hours (with the radio). Those who don't..well...don't.

Profession aside, since spending my time at home in recent months, my time spent with radio listening has declined dramatically. Case closed.

There's no doubt that once Arbitron gets past the bumps and hiccups with PPM, the industry will have data that more credible and reliable to present to the ad community.

dave said...

Thanks, Dan! Good points.

dave said...

Some quick housekeeping:

KY - thanks for the kind words, kudos to you for implementation!

Anon 1 - we teach people how to treat us, how you PD behaves is up to you and if not and you are in a bad situation seek engagement elsewhere.

Anon 2 - you got me, it is my considered opinion that PPM represents a valid solution to better measurement and it will lead us to greater revenues.

Bob - Yes, I agree with the findings of the Warren Commission. PPM will create a new behavior construct, we will all learn how to play the game, some will win, some will lose, it was ever thus.

Anon 3 - not going to buy your cover-up argument. We are dealing with PPM 1.0, all kinds of cool user stuff is in or will be in the pipeline. Speak up, talk to your Arbitron rep. Full-time folks are "exposed" to more radio that is what the data suggests. Learn to deal with the new construct.

Madison - I take your comment to mean that I am a Morris (Steve?) liberal. Honestly, I have no idea what that means but have cleared the post in the event you are making some kind of valid criticism that I am too stupid to understand.

Anon 4 - hacks get me down? No this blog keeps me humble, very humble.

Email 1 - my sense is we are ahead of where I thought we would be. Agreed, education is critical and it will happen.

Email 2 - thank you.

Emily - I am not worthy of being a blowhard moron only 1% of the time, this suggests to me you are not a regular reader of this blog.