The Inherent Holes in the PPM System


Nielsen PPM Poo Hits the Fan


Blogged by      April 10, 2015

Voltair is a processor that compensates for weak PPM encoding. By enhancing encoding it increases the likelihood that meters will correctly identify the radio station playing.

And preliminary evidence is promising.

With rumors swirling about the device’s ability to boost ratings, Nielsen has been forced to respond to the rumors.

In a confidential letter to clients Nielsen declared:

Nielsen is in the process of evaluating and testing the Voltair product, and we have engaged the MRC to provide validation of the testing results….

As we complete our thorough assessment, we will provide additional updates. To ensure a transparent measurement environment, Nielsen does not recommend that clients use Voltair until the testing and validation is complete.

That is rich. That is precious.

PPM is the most opaque audience measurement method ever conceived. It is a black box from start to finish. It is impossible for broadcasters to independently validate its estimates at any point in the process.

Harker Research has made repeated requests for Arbitron and now Nielsen to reveal test data on issues like reliability of decoding.

The company has stonewalled all our requests.

Even worse, Nielsen continues to mis-characterize the purpose and findings of the single independent study that clearly showed that PPM meters could not always reliably identify stations played at reasonable levels in realistic listening settings.

So the company that refuses all attempts to independently vett PPM wants broadcasters to wait until they have passed judgement on Voltair.

Keep in mind that Voltair only fills in the listening gaps that an imperfect encoding/decoding process misses. You’re not getting bonus quarter-hours, you’re getting more of the quarter-hours you’ve earned.

Voltair is the first device expressly designed to compensate for one of PPM’s problems, the fact that it doesn’t pick up all the listening it is exposed to.

If Nielsen blesses Voltair, it will essentially be acknowledging the obvious fact that PPM isn’t perfect, it doesn’t capture all the listening it is exposed to.

It also acknowledges that Voltair contains technology that PPM encoders should have included in the first place.

So we can’t wait to see what form the”additional updates” take.

Radio Insights has devoted the last decade to educating radio broadcasters about Arbitron’s PPM.

We’ve read the white papers, attended the Arbitron Fly-Ins, and talked to both supporters and skeptics to better understand the inner workings of PPM.

We came to the conclusion that radio’s leaders dropped the ball when they rushed to embrace PPM.




  1. There’s a dead simple way to fix radio ratings. Create a cell phone app. Rogers & Bell should encourage every customer/activation to download it, and offer discounts for downloading it and running it. They have the most to gain & lose with the current system. If even a fraction of the cell phones out there were recording tuning, we’d have a bigger sample size, younger representation and more accurate numbers.


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