Philly's new TV head count

Arbitron test of its PPM suggests higher broadcast and cable viewership

Arbitron Inc.'s release of early Portable People Meter (PPM) broadcast and cable measurements from its ongoing trial in Philadelphia suggest that viewing is significantly higher than recorded by Nielsen Media Research's meter-diary estimates.

"Encoded broadcast TV stations are 41% higher in the Portable People Meter system," said Arbitron in a statement, and "encoded cable networks are 118% higher."

The biggest differences are in the younger demographics, particularly under age 35, and for smaller and newer broadcast and cable outlets.

All of Philly's eight measured broadcast stations' ratings increased with the PPM, and several of the 20 cable networks' rose significantly from Nielsen measures. Radio listenership also rose.

The Philadelphia experiment has provoked considerable interest among both broadcasting and cable outlets, while Nielsen's Local People Meters, deployed in Boston, are being used by some cable outlets but have been almost universally rejected by the broadcast community there.

Nielsen has maintained its commitment to Local People Meters and has said the two technologies can coexist even if the two companies partner in PPM deployment—a decision supposed to have been made this month but put back to later this year.

But researchers among Philly's broadcast, cable and advertising communities so far suggest more enthusiasm for the Arbitron technology and believe Nielsen will eventually have to choose.

Researchers contacted by BROADCASTING & CABLE did not find the early Philadelphia numbers to be all that dramatic and, in fact, cautioned that reducing the data to percentages could be misleading. The early results were in fact unsurprising, they said, and that was their strength.

"The differences look huge," said Jeff Finken, research director for Tribune-owned WB affiliate WPHL-TV Philadelphia, "but they're not really that far from Nielsen's." In some cases, he noted, the huge percentage increases apply to a very small cable audience. Cable net CNN, for instance, got 10 times the rating it got from Nielsen as reported by Arbitron, rising from a 0.01 to a 0.1. The Weather Channel similarly more than tripled its rating: from a 0.03 to a 0.1.

Clearly, said Joan Erle, research director for NBC's WCAU(TV), "the Portable People Meter is capturing more viewing. It's fairer. And Philadelphia hasn't had a change in methodology since 1981."

Jim Gallagher, general manager for Comcast MarketLink in Philadelphia, which sells 32 cable networks across the No. 4 DMA, said, "Obviously, we're delighted that there seems to be a new research methodology that better captures cable viewing. We're very hopeful that Nielsen will embrace the Portable People Meter project."

Said Bernie Shimkus, of Philadelphia-based buyer Harmelin Media, "We're cautiously optimistic about the PPM numbers. We're supportive of a technology that can garner both television and radio audiences. The numbers seem to confirm our suspicions that viewing is higher for younger demographics—which are less likely to comply with filling out diaries. The technology allows us to see the interaction of media better than we ever have."