Will PPMs mean higher rates?

The portable people meter is performing well in the Montreal francophone market, and BBM Canada expects the data spewing from the new audience measurement system to be ready for daily use by media buyers and sellers within weeks. Still, the industry is divided on the impact and effectiveness of this newest measurement tool.

The portable people meter is performing well in the Montreal francophone market, and BBM Canada expects the data spewing from the new audience measurement system to be ready for daily use by media buyers and sellers within weeks. Still, the industry is divided on the impact and effectiveness of this newest measurement tool.

Ron Bremner, BBM’s VP of television, says a research committee that scrutinizes the data every day will determine when the information will be good to go.

‘The data is good. Operationally it’s very solid. It’s a simpler system by far and provides very meaningful information. The numbers are obviously different [from the set-top-box meter], but then every measurement system is a little bit different.’

The most obvious difference between PPM and set-top-box data, Bremner says, is that PPMs are reporting significantly larger audiences. This differential varies by day, time period and by demo, but he says the overall average is in the 20% range and can even creep as high as 25%.

The board of the tripartite industry group recently voted to adopt PPM technology as the standard of choice for BBM’s electronic measurement system. That means, says Bremner, the board has come to the conclusion that in a world of rapid technological change, meters that are wired in place are not going to cut it. He says they don’t reflect the reality that people today have a choice in how and where they receive their TV signal.

For Sylvie Lalande, BBM board member and media director of La Brasserie Labatt of LaSalle, Que., the PPM is a great opportunity for Labatt to get real numbers for its hard-to-find core target group, males 18 to 24 and 18 to 34. This demo has been getting harder to track because of the high amount of viewing done out of home and a history of non-compliance with pushing buttons or filling out diaries. So she isn’t obsessing about the perfection of the data.

‘I think the PPM is a big improvement – the kind of numbers we get is another story. I think most of the people against the PPM are only afraid of the numbers, but this is just a survey, not reality. It will help TV buyers to buy what we need and it will help clients to see where their target groups are. I’m not saying this is the best solution for a survey tool but I think it is the best tool we have for the moment.’

The Association of Canadian Advertisers still questions why the Canadian industry is rolling full-steam ahead to adopt PPM technology when audiometers – systems that measure by reading encoded broadcast signals – are being rejected in such countries as the U.K., Australia, and the U.S.

Britain’s radio measurement organization, RAJAR, tested the same PPM, as well as another audiometer technology, and decided to stay with diaries. Its report gave several reasons for the rejection, including an inability to get true minute-by-minute data from either meter. Another reported problem is that all PPMs are adjusted for average ear hearing levels, but human hearing levels are not uniform.

‘I know we’re perceived in some circles as troublemakers, but we have to be sure this is an acceptable device before we take it on,’ says Bob Reaume, the ACA’s VP of media and research.

‘With PPMs, we’re not just making an incremental improvement in the measurement system, we’re throwing out the old one and wholesale instituting a new measurement system that will change the currency, that will affect advertisers’ costs – and this device has not been tested enough. All we’re saying to BBM is, what’s the rush?’

Arbitron, the New York-based developer of the technology, and its U.S. test partner, Nielsen Media Research, has been testing the PPM since 2000 in Philadelphia and is launching a second test in Houston this year.

U.S. broadcasters say the technology is not ready for market and major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PAX have signed long-term deals – some as long as seven years – for the local rollout of Nielsen’s set-top meter to 10 of the biggest markets in U.S. There is also a commitment to increase the size of the national set-top meter panel to 10,000 homes.

Mike Leahy, president of Nielsen Media Research Canada of Markham, Ont., says that in addition to working with Arbitron and the PPM tests in the U.S., Nielsen has a number of new technologies under development in Asia, Europe and South Africa. He says the company is moving toward more consumer measurement, rather than place and delivery measurement, with a focus on developing long-term, well-tested solutions.

He is also surprised that BBM is bringing an unproven technology to market before it is fully tested.

‘The relationship we have with Arbitron in the U.S. has allowed us to work with them in identifying some of [the problems with PPMs] and try to overcome them. In the U.S. specifically, they’re saying the PPM is not ready for market. That’s why we’re surprised that the Canadian industry seems to believe it is.’

Debbie King, executive VP and COO of ZenithOptimedia in Toronto, is on the 2004 BBM board and believes the PPM’s passive audiometer technology is the only way all TV viewing can be accurately captured now and in the future. As expected, she says PPM data does show an increase in overall audience numbers because of its passivity and ability to capture out-of-home tuning.

‘It is a passive meter that does not require respondents to push buttons when they enter a room. Under PMT technology [BBM's current picture matching technology], as long as one person logs in there is no prompt or requirement for any other individuals in the households to register.’

Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal and also a BBM board member, says the media directors are working on a calibration grid, agreeable to both buyers and sellers, to alleviate the concern that higher numbers will lead to higher ad rates.

‘It will enable us to agree as an industry on what the key or index differences are on a demographic and time-block basis, so we can make adjustments to cost-per-points and cost-per-thousand and not have situations where there are rate increases based on increases in audience size generated from the new data.’

Dow is a little reluctant to let the PPM out of the gate just yet. He says that early PPM results are encouraging, but there is a lot more information to be studied before the industry moves into wholesale application of PPMs on a more extensive basis.