Why Declining PUMM Levels Keep Me Up At Night


(By Buzz Knight) Back in 2010, when Arbitron (now Nielsen) introduced a new era in radio ratings – the Portable People Meter Service it also introduced another term that the industry needed to follow: PUMM.

PUMM stands for Persons Using Measured Media and is defined as “The total reported exposure to encoded media in the market.” PUMM levels have been on the decline for years and this is keeping me up at night.

Are available audiences just vanishing or are they melting away due to various competitive factors? Melting is a more exact answer to this dilemma especially in light of Nielsen’s 2020 rollout of the PPM Headphone listening adjustment which addressed years of client complaints that the PPM Meters weren’t adequately measuring radio listening occurring on headphones.

This measurement gap was long seen as a significant culprit of declining PUMM and since the implementation in October 2020 has provided a lift in PPM markets. The PUMM decline started getting industry attention about four years ago and became a topic of conversation for industry groups I was part of like the Nielsen Advisory Council and the NAB’s Committee on Local Radio Audience Measurement.

Depending on the market the decline ranges from 2 to 5 % per year and is additionally complicated by the behavioral factors associated with the pandemic. This should serve as a wake-up call to content creators and the need for consistent content excellence.

Follow what has happened with the Television industry and it should give you additional concern. Traditional consumption has changed for TV. The impact on Television viewing habits manifests itself in regular ratings horror stories like The 2021 Oscars which laid a massive egg and was watched by a mere 9.85 million viewers.

The content creator of today needs to “bring it” every second to compete with a short attention span world. They need to be well prepared and engaged with an audience every second with compelling content that can’t be found anywhere else.

As new platforms emerge for consumption there are stark reminders like at this years Grammy Awards when the group BTS shared a 17 minute clip on a platform called VLive, that raked in almost as many viewers in a short time as the entire two hour show.

So where is the audience melt coming from regarding PUMM declines?

Multiple sources according to Edison’s 2021 Share of Ear Report: On-Line Audio consumption now is at roughly 193 Million 12+ and is spread across Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, You-Tube Music, SoundCloud and Sirius/XM as consumer choice.

Then there is owned music which as a consumption option now has 48% of 12+ population. The options are vast when it comes to how consumers spend time with other entertainment options and this needs to set off alarm bells.

The Covid factor has also forced a shift in behavior that must be acknowledged when it comes to radio consumption patterns. Although a return to some normalcy cannot be ignored, some companies will undoubtedly allow more work from home options as an employee perk.

The future of commuting patterns is uncertain and we know there has been change. As behavior has shifted it would be wise for radio to find ways to actually welcome back their audience as if it is “new cume” coming into the pipeline.

I can imagine great real- world production with actual listeners that could accomplish this and help a station stand out in their market. The “Melt” is not only due to consumption options chipping away at audience. Its about those unfortunate examples of weak investment in the long- term future of a brand.

Quality is Paramount to Future Success!

Another important reminder that content providers “have to bring it” every available second as they compete for attention and mindshare. Between investment in great content and acknowledgement of why PUMM levels are under attack the time is now to “Stop the Melt.”

Buzz Knight is the CEO of Buzz Knight Media and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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