Arbitron targets deployment of new personal peoplemeter by mid-2002

Reliability in the peoplemeter system is what the industry is crying for and US-based Arbitron Inc. is promising just that. It has successfully completed the first phase of the Portable People Meter (PPM) US market trial with the release of a third round of ratings comparisons for its new television, cable and radio audience measurement system.

Compared to ratings reported by current TV and radio audience measurement systems, the PPM reports higher total-day average quarter-hour (AQH) estimates for consumer use of electronic media - radio, TV and cable, a company release says. According to its findings, this new ratings technology is capable of tracking media exposure missed by today's generation of TV and radio ratings methods.

"Our success in the first phase of the US market trial keeps us on a fast track to deploy the Portable People Meter in local markets across the United States," said Marshall Snyder, president, Worldwide Portable People Meter Development, Arbitron Inc. "By the second quarter of 2002, the industry will have the first direct comparisons of PPM audience estimates for individual radio and TV stations as well as cable networks. This is the information our customers have been looking forward to as they prepare to use a new way of measuring radio, television and cable audiences."

The PPM has been undergoing US market trials within the Philadelphia TV market since December 2000. The next phase in Arbitron's demonstration of the PPM is to expand the sample to at least 1,500 people across the entire Philadelphia designated market area beginning January 2002. The increased sample size in the second phase of the trial will allow direct comparisons of audiences for individual radio stations and formats, TV stations and cable networks. Reports say $ 100 million is the investment going into the project.

Nielsen Media Research is providing financial support and its television survey research expertise in this trial of the PPM. Nielsen also has an option to join Arbitron in the commercial deployment of the Arbitron PPM in the US.

The PPM is a pager-sized device that is carried by consumers. It automatically detects inaudible codes that TV and radio broadcasters as well as cable networks embed in the audio portion of their programming using encoders provided by Arbitron. At the end of each day, the survey participants place the meters into base stations that recharge the devices and send the collected codes to Arbitron for tabulation. The meters are equipped with a motion sensor that allows Arbitron to monitor the compliance of the PPM survey participants every day - a quality control feature unique to the Arbitron PPM in the realm of media research, the company claims.

Queried as to the practical possibilities of such a technology becoming the industry norm, LV Krishnan , CEO, TAM India, a joint venture between AC Nielsen and IMRB, said while improvements in the ratings system was what everyone wanted, whether it was practically implementable was the key. There were a number of companies working on new technologies and products to provide ratings data but the problem so far has been the cost factor, he pointed out.

Elaborating, he said despite India being a much younger television market its ratings were based on the people meter system (TAM has 3,454 meters installed across 27 cities and towns while ORG MARG's INTAM coverage is based on 3,637 meters in 29 cities). The US has around 6,000 meters but they sample only roughly half the TV viewing spectrum. In the smaller interior centres it is still the diary notation system (quite outdated) which is used to register programme viewing habits, he points out, indicating that the cost factor is what prevents the whole of the US being under the peoplemeter system.

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