Thursday, January 04, 2007

PPM and Pledge Drives

Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM) should provide important insights on how listening changes, if at all, during on-air pledge drives. As I suggested in the PPM and Program Analysis post, the big picture analyses will be more important than the microscopic analyses. Here’s why.

Having looked at the currently available PPM analysis tools, it is clear that PPM data should not be thought of as comparable to auditorium dial testing. In auditorium dial testing, survey participants are instructed to listen to programming samples and immediately push buttons on a keypad to indicate whether or not they like what they hear.

People don’t always push the button in the real world. Sometimes they mentally tune-out programming they don’t like. Sometimes they wait it out. Clock radios go off at different times of the morning, sometimes during a compelling “D” segment of Morning Edition and sometimes during pledge breaks that pre-empt the “E” segment at 10 minutes before the hour. People hearing a pledge break might leave in the middle of it because that’s when they always leave the house. It will be wrong to assume that all PPM tune-ins and tune-outs are purely a vote for the programming of the moment. The meter isn’t that sensitive of a research tool.

PPM will be a valuable tool for examining whether or not a station’s weekly Cume and AQH are affected by pledge drives. There is a good chance that pledge-induced fluctuations in daily Cume will show up in PPM. We might get indications about the effects of pledge drive length on listening patterns.

One idea that comes into play is that listeners’ tolerance for pledge drives goes down as the drive progresses. A certain amount of fundraising might be acceptable before listening behaviors are affected. We should also be able to measure whether there are lingering effects from pledge drives. How long does it take to recover from any audience loss due to pledge drives?

The answers to these larger questions can help public radio stations raise more money while further minimizing any negative effects pledge drives have on listening. These are the types of questions PPM will answer, but only after we’ve had a chance to look at and understand the data from several markets. That’s a few years down the road. In the meantime, it will be important to resist the temptation to over-analyze early PPM results, especially those on the microscopic level.

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