PPM Data: Ratings ‘Roids or Accuracy at Last?

That’s not an Olympic timer at left. It is a Portable People Meter. About the size of a pack of smokes, it satisfies and tastes best to Canadian networks, especially the CTV-Rogers consortium broadcasting these Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
How much of a role does the new PPM data play in the huge Olympic numbers spilling out of the consortium this week? The president of BBM Canada, Jim MacLeod, says it really isn’t that big a factor. The main PPM boost, he says, comes from the new gadget’s ability to measure viewership “out of house.” MacLeod says so far that makes up about 12.6% of the Olympic totals. Under the old People Meters system, he says, last Friday’s 13.3 million consortium total would still have approached 12 million viewers.
Have a fairly detailed story about all of this up today on The Canadian Press news wire, you can read it here.
I spoke with several players in the TV industry, across Canada, in preparing the CP story. On the record, the people named in the article were all bullish about the new PPMs. They pointed out how everybody’s network and specialty numbers were way up (around 25%, on average) and that it all shows that Canadians are watching tons of TV. That is good for business in an industry that could use a little good news.
Pointing out flaws in the system is a bit like griping about the Olympics. Just celebrate the victories, dammit, seems to be the official stance.
Network and advertising execs will tell you off the record, however, that they have noticed inconsistencies with the PPM data. There is a significant drop off in Canadian viewing levels from 8 o’clock to 9 o’clock, for example.
Another issue is the big drop off in late night viewing. Some viewers, it has been suggested, have docked their responders for the night even though they’re in bed watching Letterman. As a result, Dave doesn`t get their love.
One individual–not a CBC exec–raised the question about who would want to be in these samples and wear one of these gizmo’s 24/7. Not stuffy old CBC news watchers, surely, which is why the CBC’s 10 p.m. newscast has hit a ratings wall despite tons of promotion and a pricey relaunch last fall.
MacLeod is always accessible, articulate and candid about the new PPMs, pointing out they were tested for years in Montreal before the national roll out late last summer. He says adjustments are constantly being made and dialogue with the network membership is on-going.
I think there is a great deal of evidence to suggest sports viewers simply were not being counted properly before PPMs and are better represented today. Same with live event programming like Survivor and Battle of the Blades. Not every family member would remember to “log in” under the old system, and now they are being counted. Same with scripted shows with young family appeal, such as CBC’s suddenly red hot Heartland.
So if you buy or make shows in Canada, do you put your money and development into broad appeal family shows, big, live event programming, and shun intense crime dramas and other stuff that might only draw one individual at a time? CBC programming executive director Kirstine Stewart, when I spoke with her for the CP story this week, says no, that she has to continue to program for a wide, broadcast audience. Still, those schedules next June should be interesting.
I’m thinking that there are many more PPM stories to write. In the meantime, I’ll be doing the CBC syndicated radio loop tomorrow morning with more Olympic ratings ramblings. Details to follow.

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