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Arbitron Attempting to Modernize Non-PPM Market Ratings

COLUMBIA, MD — While radio ratings in the nation’s largest markets have been reliant on Portable People Meters (PPMs) for quite some time now, the numbers in many markets — including Syracuse and Utica — are still calculated “the old-fashioned way,” with ratings diaries. But yesterday, Arbitron gave it’s first public preview of “Project Leapfrog,” the ratings giant’s plans to modernize ratings data collection in non-PPM markets.

Oddly, there’s no press release or other literature about Project Leapfrog on Arbitron’s website yet, but several national radio trade publications have reported on a Tuesday webinar in which Arbitron unveiled the progress it has made so far, and what lies ahead for the project.

According to several sources, Arbitron says Project Leapfrog is still very much “experimental.”  Radio Ink quoted Arbitron as calling Leapfrog a “potential” alternative to the decades-old methodology of paper diarykeeping.

Arbitron says Leapfrog aims to improve the quality of ratings data in non-PPM markets by meeting several smaller goals.  According to FMQB, those goals are:

  • Increase sample sizes
  • Improved representation (reducing “weighting” of underrepresented demos)
  • Data collection via internet and/or mobile devices
  • Changing to an address-based sample frame, rather than random land-based phone line selection

Perhaps the biggest factor is the last one. For many years, Arbitron recruited diarykeepers by calling random landline phone numbers. The practice had been criticized in recent years, as more and more households have fallen off the radar by going “cellphone-only.” By changing the recruitment method, Arbitron hopes to get those households back into the sample pool.

According to Radio Business Report, the new survey strategy will allow diarykeepers to log their radio listenership through a website and/or through a special app for mobile devices. Paper diaries will still be offered to respondents who lack internet access, or simply prefer paper.

Radio Ink reports Arbitron conducted a trial run last year, and the results were “very positive.”  The initial testing saw greater participation from the 18-34 age group, and a decline from respondents over 55.

Another round of testing — taking place now — allows participants to begin logging their listenership whenever they want, rather than being glued to the traditional “Thursday through Wednesday” schedule.

Finally, participation will be encouraged by changing the way “premiums” are given to respondents. Usually a small amount of money is given when the diaries arrive, and a few more dollars are sent after completed diaries are returned to Arbitron. By contrast, Leapfrog will not award any premiums until a survey is completed in full — but it will give respondents the option of instant gratification via an online coupon code, or they can request to have a traditional gift card sent through the mail.

According to the Market Research Industry Online, officials at Arbitron stress Leapfrog is still very much in testing stages, and the company is not yet providing an official launch date. RBR quotes Arbitron VP of Product Management Brad Feldhaus as explaining, “our experience with PPM tells us that we expect to go through a lot of phases of testing” before the company can confidently say when Leapfrog might replace the book.

Radio-Info.com points out that Leapfrog — as you may have guessed — is just an internal title for the series of reforms.

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