One woman said she knows it is technically “cheating” but she was motivated by earning points for cash. “I know we shouldn’t do it, but we wanted to make sure our numbers were still there.”
The numbers are the points that participants earn to increase the cash they make. Some families can make a $1000 a month.
The shocking discovery that PPM panelists game Arbitron for financial gain shouldn’t be all that shocking.
British broadcasters reached the same conclusion six years ago in 2005. It is a key reason they unplugged the meters:
Ultimately, we had to concede that the methodology was measuring people’s interaction with the methodology itself, and not with the media we were supposed to be measuring.
That’s why mothers carry their children’s meters. That’s why panelists attach their meter to a ceiling fan or shake it now and then.
It’s all about compliance.
If a meter sits still for a day, the family is likely to get a call. “We see your children’s meters didn’t move yesterday. Better get them moving.”
No need to explain the implied threat. Panelists know the drill. They are told that repeated non-compliance and the meters will be pulled along with all that money.
We know all this because Harker Research staffers also talk to PPM panelists. The panelists we talk to tell us they too game the system.
Panelists explain that Arbitron even has weekend contests to make sure panelists carry the meter on their days off.
If compliance falls off, the in-tabs fall off. On any given day Arbitron might have a quarter or more of the meters just sitting at home, and that hurts the already small in-tabs.
Compliance is a problem with the diaries too, but compliance for a diary keeper means filling it out and mailing it back. At least with a diary, the participant has to give some thought to radio listening.
A diary keeper could just check off the no listening box at the bottom of each page, but if she is going to go to the trouble of mailing it back she might as well jot down a couple of stations.
Now with the meters, incentives are all about behavior. Keep it moving and you earn points. Carry it during the times Arbitron has trouble with compliance and earn extra points.
As far as the participant is concerned, Arbitron is measuring movement, not radio. There is no incentive to wear the meter visibly, somewhere it will pick up the sound of a radio station. Stuff it away. Compliance is all about keeping the meter moving.
Kepler’s story of how PPM panelists game Arbitron has been met with skepticism. PPM boosters dismiss these stories as aberrations. Critics point out he only interviewed 13 people. They insist the vast majority of panelists must be conscientious cooperative participants. Right?
Think about it.
Panelists want the money but not the hassles. If you can keep Arbitron off your back and keep the money coming by just letting the dog wear the meter, wouldn’t you?
People can be panelists for years. Even if one begins a faithful and honest participant, interest is going to wain--which is why if you whine, Arbitron will start paying you even more money.
If all you have to do is pull the meter out of the charger some time in the morning, let the baby play with the thing all day, and then dock it again in the evening, why would you wear the thing, let alone make the whole family strap it on all day?
As British broadcasters concluded six years ago, Arbitron is now in the business of measuring people’s behavior, their willingness (and creativity) to keep a pager in motion through the day.
If it picks up a radio station or two, it’s just a bonus.