Audience measurement: Diaries and PPMs

As radioinfo continues to examine ratings, we compare the new smart diary system now adopted in Australia with the PPM system used in the US.
Two years ago Australian advertising agencies were crying out for change in the way the radio industry measured its audience. Electronic tv ratings were available, but, back then, radio was still using only paper diaries.
Those cries have died away as the new hybrid system has been well accepted by Australia’s radio and advertising industries.
The new system combines paper diaries with online diary collection methods using computers, smart phones and tablets, and continues to use a large sample across 5 capital cities. Regional research has also improved, with Xtra Research providing useful and cost effective measurement, along with a panel of other companies also accredited to deliver regional ratings.
In the last years of the previous Nielsen ratings contract, People Meters were being considered in Australia, but in the end, the Australian radio industry decided that the technology was not reliable enough and was too expensive for this market at that time.
CRA’s research committee was cautious, wanting to ensure that any new system was able to accurately capture listening and would deliver an improvement on the current system.
A recent US radio industry podcast, Radio Stuff, discussed the American People Meters (PPM) experience, highlighting a number of weaknesses that have emerged in the system, which appears to vindicate Australia’s decision not to go with people meters.
In the podcast, Larry Gifford “goes down the PPM rabbit hole” with Harker Research’s Richard Harker, discussing the issues with PPM “that have been largely ignored.” It appears some in the US radio industry wish they had asked more questions before embarking on PPM technology in some markets.
Quoting the Australian experience, Harker concludes that electronic diary measurement is a positive development and that electronic diaries should have been explored more in America before committing too early to people meters. At the time however, smart phone and tablet technology was not as developed as it is today.
According to Harker, 20% of listening fails to register with the PPM. The question of how loud a radio has to be to register with the device has never been satisfactorily answered, he says.
There is uncertainty about how far away from the meter the radio can be, before measurement fails, and the meters also sometimes drop out when hearing talk radio because of the pauses in speech.

Another weakness to the people meter system is that the data is not easy to audit, because you cannot check a listener’s listening easily, as you can with a diary.
While US people meters show that radio listening has fallen, Harker believes the faults in the diary system may be responsible for this phenomenon. By contrast, Australian radio has not lost audience after changing over to its new electronic diary system.
Two other interesting points raised by Harker are that deeper voices register better with the meters and that jazz and ‘smooth’ format stations “don’t encode well” and therefore register lower listening times. If meters were being used in Australia, the results for our leading talk stations and Nova’s smooth fm may have been very different.
After nearly a year and a half of GfK’s smart diary surveys in Australia, the results appear positive for radio in this country. It seems like the industry may have made the right choice about audience measurement. Listen below and draw your own conclusions.


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