Saul Levine wants Nielsen to adopt Headphone Backup plan.

Stakeholders continue to discuss what they see as shortcomings in how Nielsen’s PPM service measures radio listening that occurs on headphones. Meanwhile, one veteran station owner has a suggestion: Field a separate survey of diarykeepers in parallel with the PPM and compare the results of the two audience samples.

Reacting to an Inside Radio Inside Story on the heated issue published Monday, Saul Levine, president of Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters, proposes a method that would “cross-check PPM accuracy.” Under Levine’s proposition, Nielsen would field a small, separate control panel of diarykeepers simultaneous with the currency-level PPM sample. Control panels are commonly used in research for benchmarking norms or to determine how proposed changes in research methodologies might impact the results. Levine wants Nielsen to maintain a sample of diaries to “cross-check” the results with those from the PPM. “If the results of one method are vastly different from the other, Nielsen could investigate the PPM results to guarantee there was not a significant discrepancy and departure from the accurate measurement mandatory for the radio broadcast industry,” Levine told Inside Radio. The concurrent diary sample in parallel with the regular PPM panel would function as “a reliable safeguard for the accuracy that must be achieved for the radio industry to grow and maintain its standing vs. competing media,” he added.

Like other broadcasters interviewed by Inside Radio, Levine has concerns about how effectively Nielsen is capturing headphone listening in PPM markets. The combination of fast-growing headphone sales and steadily increasing listening to AM/FM streams has renewed concerns that panelists aren’t bothering to use the meter’s clumsy headphone adapter. Nielsen insists its current system is working and that any missed listening is exceedingly small.

“The fact [is] that radio listening is now commonly achieved by the listener wearing headphones which can very well block out contact with the external PPM device so as to not measure the radio listening being utilized, as well as poor reception areas negating the effectiveness of the PPM activation,” Levine says.

Levine, who owns radio stations in Los Angeles and Monterey, CA, has a longer view on radio measurement than most in the industry. During a career that dates back to the 1950s, he has seen measurement evolve from Hooper calling households, to Pulse dispatching employees directly to homes to check the actual radio dial, to Arbitron’s recall-based diary methodology. “Nielsen must take steps to correct these deficiencies, and at the least reassure its subscribers that the PPM methodology is reasonably accurate,” he says.

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