How to Audit Your PPM Encoding and Why You Should Do It Tomorrow

| July 18, 2013

By Chris Pendl
Bonneville Seattle
Creative Director

pendlchriswriterppm (2)SEATTLE – PPM stands for Personal People Meter and is Arbitron’s audience measurement platform.  Arbitron lists the markets using PPM on their website.

There seems to be a new platform to distribute radio programming every few months.  The most-recent addition is the Swell smartphone app—and that is added to the already-long list of podcast aggregators, video streams, audio streams, and station smartphone apps, to name a few.  With radio audiences fragmented on different distribution platforms, it’s important to confirm all of our published content has the proper encoding to receive listening credit.
Regardless if you’re simulcasting commercials on your digital platforms, if you’re not using PPM-encoded audio to distribute content you’re missing out.

While the PPM encoders have the ability to alert your engineers when they’re not operating correctly, there’s still plenty that can go wrong.  I’ve listed some possibilities below:

  • Let’s say you’ve assigned an intern to create your daily show podcasts.   It’s simple for anyone (never mind someone who is working for free) to grab the non-PPM encoded audio to publish a podcast.
  • Maybe you’ve recently started to simulcast your commercials on all distribution channels and removed your digital ad injection infrastructure.  Removing ad injection from the audio chain could affect the optimal audio level being routed to the PPM encoder, and this could degrade the overall quality of the PPM code being saved into the audio file.
  • Currently, there’s not a lot of real-time visibility as to which audio actually has encoding at the station level.  Yes, there’s a status light on the front of the PPM encoder, but how do you know that audio is actually making it to an audiostream or podcast?  In other words, we know the PPM encoder is working, but we don’t know what happens to that audio once it leaves the encoder.

Now that I’ve underscored the importance of this, let’s dive into the details on how you can conduct your very own PPM audit.

Each market using PPM audience measurement has an encoding engineer who can be reached by calling Arbitron’s Encoding Hotline at (866) 767-7212.   Once you find yours, here’s what you’ll want to do.

Make a list of all your distribution channels in a spreadsheet.

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Next, you’ll want to identify the audio to test.   For channels that are publicly accessible, like audio streams and podcasts, you can include a link to that audio in the spreadsheet.  For all other channels, you’ll need to send the actual audio to Arbitron.  For testing purposes, Arbitron recommends sending audio that’s at least five minutes in length.  In the spreadsheet below, I’ve included the links and the audio file names I’m sending to be tested.

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It’s that easy.   Once you have this spreadsheet prepared, you’ll want to send it along with your audio files to your Arbitron encoding engineer. Before you hit the send button, here are two things to make your PPM audio a little easier:

  • Consider using Google Docs for the spreadsheet.  This allows the engineer to update the spreadsheet in real time and makes it easy to share the results with programming, engineering, and other managers.
  • To avoid sending emails with large audio attachments (that may or may not make it to their desired recipient) save your test audio to the cloud using a free service like Dropbox.  This will allow you to send a link to the test audio.

Soon, you’ll get a completed test worksheet that looks like the one below. If there are yellow or red cells on your audit spreadsheet, come up with an action plan to resolve those issues and retest.

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Just how often should you audit your PPM encoding?  Well that all depends.  Do you only distribute your programming over the air, or do you take advantage of every possible channel to publish your content?  The more complex your distribution strategy, the more opportunity exists for something to go wrong, and the more often you’ll want to audit your encoding.

And lastly, someone in programming should perform this audit.  The natural instinct could be to send this off to the engineering department.  Keeping this in programming will provide a bit of a check and balance and provide you with visibility you might not have had before.

For a deeper look into the behind-the-scenes workings of PPM encoding, check out John Budosh’s Arbitron blog.

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Chris Pendl is the creative director at Bonneville Seattle and can be reached at cpendl@bonneville.com.  Check out his blog at www.oldradionewtricks.com. Meet Chris Pendl at Talkers Los Angeles 2013 on Thursday, October 10.

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Category: Advice