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The Games People Play

March 24, 2022

Fred Jacobs recently wrote a blog called “Playing the PPM Game.” The gist of the article was that radio has suffered by playing to the meter.

In general terms, we agree with his point that playing to the meters – and not your audience – is not the best strategy. But what about the other side of the coin?

We always encourage our clients to strive for great radio. Besides, we also know that the PPM panel changes at about an 8% clip every month. Today’s heavy meter keeper may be out of the panel tomorrow. More importantly, a potential big fan could roll in at any time.

This may seem like a Captain Obvious statement, but the most popular radio stations tend to reach the most meters – survey after survey. They lock in a strong base of support that can sustain them when a huge P-1 rolls out. They also reap the benefits when a fat meter comes their way.

All that said, smart programmers ignore the PPM game at their peril. We liken this to baseball. There is a specific strike zone mandated by the sport’s rules. As any fan knows, that zone is more of a suggestion than a mandate. Umpires tend to vary in their interpretation of the zone and players need to adapt to those variances.

While PPM’s relation to actual reality may be spurious at best, it is the system by which all radio stations are graded. So what can a programmer do to stay true to their brand and play the “game” at the same time?

First, if you are not currently receiving – or scouring – your Nielsen Control Panel Report, start doing so immediately. It reveals a trove of information on which age cells are giving you the most quarter hours. Keep in mind that much of this data is unweighted but it does give you some insight into where your numbers are coming from.

Why is this important? As a recovering Program Director, I can say that every time I had a bad book, my immediate reaction was to “fix” something. Tighten up the rotations and the air talent, dive into promotions, etc. This can be a healthy exercise. However, what if your sudden ratings decline was due to the disappearance of your biggest household in the panel? Your dip had nothing to do with your product – you were penalized by the rules of the game. Not knowing this could lead you to making decisions based on faulty data.

Here at Research Director, Inc. we take our clients even deeper into the game. Our proprietary reports can zoom in on specific hot zip codes and age cells that are driving listening – for both you and your competition. You can also cross reference this data to see how much sharing there is in these areas.

As stated previously, we do not encourage our clients to use this data to program their stations. We want them to use it to understand what is happening on the playing field.

As we pointed out in a previous blog, your decision on music sweeps or commercial-free hours should be based on their appropriateness for your brand. However, knowing where to place them by using data can make their placement more effective. Similarly, having geo-specific data on your audience can inform your decisions on things like promos, sales appearances, and localized “shout-outs.”

The ratings are a tool. Use them as such. And always do great radio.

If you’d like to find out how The Ratings Experts can help you enhance your ratings opportunities, click here.

And to read Fred’s full blog, click here.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant