How did House become, almost over night in it’s sixth season, the most-watched TV show in Canada? Because it probably has been for years.
It has everything to do with the new way viewers are counted in Canada. The difference are those Portable People Meters and I have a feature all about them up now on the Canadian Press news wire. You can find that story here at the Toronto Star’s web site.
There is, however, much more to the story and more to come as the full impact of the PPMs unfolds in the coming weeks and months. BBM Canada president and CEO Jim MacLeod took the time to explain the little gizmo to me in some detail earlier this week. The PPM receptor, which weighs just 2.6 ounces, has been tested for five years in Montreal, was eased into the rest of Canada over summer and went full time Canada-wide Aug. 31. MacLeod says BBM has seen about a 23% jump in broadcast viewing and about a 33% jump in specialty viewing.
The big difference? people who carry their PPMs get counted as soon as they’re within earshot of the set. Before, individuals had to “log in” all the time–and we all know how quickly that can get old. The new PPMs hear a signal beyond the range of human ears that is emitted every four seconds from TVs and radios throughout the nation. If you dog’s been acting funny lately, get Fido away from the Trinitron.
Part of the story not in the article was how the panels are put together now are also shaping the statistics. “We have a new sampling method,” says MacLeod. “We used to draw sample through a process called area probability, which was actually knocking on doors.” Now BBM uses telephone recruitment. Macleod feels that is a more accurate way to reflect the market and stay current.
For example, he says that some areas of Canada where there has been rapid growth and movement–he cites Calgary and Vancouver–are now on BBM Canada’s radar. In this way, the research company may be starting to find folks who use television differently and who weren’t represented before, leading to some audience shift.
He also says the new technology is sound based, so that if people mute commercials, they’re only recorded as watching 46-48 minutes of an hour broadcast–not the whole thing.
The other thing is that the size of the panel is bigger–4350 homes, around 9000 individuals. Families who sign up can do this for up to three years. If you stop wearing your PPMs and are bad little “comply-ers,” you get booted out of the sample. MacLeod says there is about a 3% turn over each month (based mainly on the Montreal sample to date).
MacLeod also thinks that his company is finally getting a handle on the impact of high definition programming, too. The spike in sports numbers comes in to play there, he feels. There are just more HD sets out there, and more in the panel.
PVR use, however, seems to have hit the wall in Canada. Moving toward 25% penetration in the States, it is stalled out at around 10% in Canada. That may start to change however, says MacLeod. “Before, we only captured certain devices in the home we were wired up to–the VCR and PVR in most homes,” he says. “Lots of people have private PVRs and we didn’t used to monitor those. Now the PPM doesn’t care where it comes from, as long as it hears the code and knows the time stamp is different than today’s time, it knows it is playback.”
Canwest Global senior v.p. research Kathy Gardner says one wrinkle they’re drilling down to with the new PPM data is that panel members do not always remember to dock them each night (so they can recharge and send data back to BBM Canada). The suckers can run two or three days without charging, so if you forget and dock them two or three days later, Global finds out two or three days later that you too were watching House or Survivor. The result: that 10 day “Total” number is now a little larger than ever compared to the BBM overnights.
How does the ad community feel about the new PPM numbers? So far the feedback MacLeod has been hearing from his members is all positive. But what they’re really excited about, he says, is what will come next:
Tracking households and individuals throughout the day from medium to medium, from radio to TV to the Internet. Ads for stuff you’re likely to buy are gonna follow you from your alarm clock radio to your Blackberry. Your electric toothbrush might start beeping out messages.
Watch TV till 9 and then switch over to radio’s CBC One? BBM is gonna tell Procter & Gamble, and they’re gonna sell you some Attends or Polygrip. It’s coming, watch out.
Radio is gonna feel the PPM love come December, and that should be interesting. The Radio numbers are still counted on old diary systems. Things are going to take a 20 year leap forward all at once in radio land. Fasten your seat belts!


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