Personal People Meter Aims For Accuracy

In radio, as in T.V., careers live and die by the ratings. Traditionally, Arbitron ratings, which measure who listens to what radio stations when, have been tallied using “diaries”, with individuals filling out, by hand, listening habits from memory.

It has always been an inexact science at best. In my book, “No Static at All—a behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music”, I discuss some of the inherent problems with Arbitron’s long-time approach, including the fact that cash-strapped, younger demos are more likely to find the incentive of a few dollars per diary attractive than would older, busier, more affluent individuals. Moreover, the “human factor” makes overall accuracy challenging.

Enter the Personal People Meter—Arbitron’s recently introduced portable, electronic device that actually recognizes and records, automatically, what radio station you are listening to. That includes stations you are exposed to in a restaurant, retail establishment or doctor’s office. Could it be that true accuracy in measuring radio listenership has finally arrived?

Unveiled in just a couple of major markets thus far, including New York and Houston, the PPM is already finding some interesting things, in particular where station loyalty is concerned: Individuals actually button-push among similar stations more often than they say they do. In Houston, five different stations tied for 1st place in the coveted 25-54 demographic, with four more stations trailing at #2, separated from the top spot by only 0.2 of a rating point.

The PPM could, interestingly enough, prove a boon for “adult” stations, just as diary books were for the “teeny bopper” stations, with older professionals more likely to responsibly operate and utilize the electronic device. We’ll know more when the People Meter wires all Top 10 markets next year.