Radio Evangelist

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House Committee to Review PPM

Posted by Steve on November 25, 2009

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is set to hold a hearing on Wednesday, December 2, to examine Arbitron’s radio audience measurement device, the Portable People Meter (PPM).

The government’s intrusion into the measurement of media audiences is fraught with problems, illustrated by this quote from the chairman of the committee – Congressman Ed Towns, from the second paragraph of the committee’s announcement:

“With an unprecedented decline in ratings among popular minority television and radio stations, we must explore the possibility of methodological flaws in the implementation of the PPM,” said Chairman Towns. “As it stands now, the current system jeopardizes the future of minority broadcasting.”

Ed Towns.jpg

Congressman Towns, what connection would a “decline in ratings among popular minority television…stations” have to do with PPM? PPM only officially measures radio, and even if Arbitron did measure local TV, there could be no decline in ratings because there are no pre-ppm ratings from Arbitron to compare to!

Here’s more from this press release – pay attention to the bolded portion in particular:

Chairman Towns served a subpoena to the Media Ratings Council (MRC) in September 2009 for documents detailing its oversight of Arbitron’s use of the PPM, after Arbitron forbid MRC from releasing documents related to the Committee’s investigation. Although Arbitron promised full cooperation with the investigation, the company prohibited MRC from providing the Committee with any documents related to the PPM. Furthermore, Arbitron provided the Committee with insufficient documents that were either publicly available or biased toward the company.

So – the Congressman wants more documents that are “…publicly available or biased towards the company?” Huh?

This hearing should be interesting. Not because the subject is particularly compelling, but because it may be an illustration of exactly why government shouldn’t be involved with issues like the measurement of media exposure.

If Congressman Towns’ and the Committee’s statements are indicative of the way the hearing will proceed – discussions of why the PPM has reduced TV ratings and why Arbitron hasn’t provided the Committee with more publicly available or biased documents – then Congress will have wasted valuable treasure of time and resources.

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Nielsen, Arbitron and the Upcoming Battle – Part II: Engaged

Posted by Steve on August 17, 2009

Several months ago, I wrote an article about the potential for battle between Arbitron and Nielsen. It was called “Nielsen, Arbitron and the Upcoming Battle.” You can link to it here.

Since then, Arbitron announced its “ARB-TV” program and just last week the Financial Times broke a story about a new consortium of advertisers and agencies

In today’s “Taylor on Radio-Info,” Tom Taylor had a couple of paragraphs on this topic. He says, in part:

Now, #3, I’m hearing more concrete chatter about Area 51-kinds of research using an electronic detector much smaller than a PPM.

I thought to myself – “huh, top secret development? Didn’t I post a link to the actual photo of the Nielsen Go Meter?”

So, I popped back to the article and – lo and behold – the link to the picture of the “Go-Meter” was broken. A Google search for “Go Meter” or the file name for the original picture turned up nothing. Any reference to the “Go Meter” has been (it seems) removed from the Nielsen website. Interesting.

So – Tom is right. Nielsen HAS gone stealth on its PPM attack project.

Also in his article, Tom mentions the idea of installing encoding software on a cell phone that would perform the function of a device like the PPM. There are many problems with using a mobile device like a cell phone as a measurement device for audience ratings. The biggest one is the instability of the platform. A measurement device for media audience ratings needs to work like a simple appliance. Having other applications running on the platform at the same time raises the possibility of instability exponentially. Thus, the whole platform could crash and detection of media exposure would stop. The way to avoid this is to use an imbedded operating system on a single-function device, like the PPM. These devices can be rock-solid stable with very high levels of reliability. There are also behavioral reasons why the cell-phone solution doesn’t make sense, but this single technical reason is enough.

So – Arbitron and Nielsen are rattling sabers, but in a “muffled” way. It’s clear that the muffles will be taken off the sabers pretty soon. Nielsen will attack Arbitron in the major markets with portable electronic measurement. Arbitron’s move is to encroach upon Nielsen with its ARB-TV project and alignments with companies like TRA and Tivo.

Let the battles begin!

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Arbitron Adding Significant New Feature to PPM

Posted by Steve on April 20, 2009

logo_NAB09JPEG.jpgIn the flurry of press announcements heralding the start of the NAB Show in Las Vegas today, Harmonic Inc. and Arbitron Inc. announced the use of Harmonic’s Rhozet™ Carbon Coder universal transcoding technology in Arbitron’s PPM media research services. In a quote from the press release, Taymoor Arshi, Chief Technology Officer at Arbitron, said:

“Our goal is to offer our customers new measurement solutions using our Portable People Meter technology. Our integration with Rhozet Carbon Coder helps by providing customers with the ability to prepare their content within their current workflows for inclusion in our media research services.”

The press release further states:

The Carbon Coder software will be used in production pipelines to embed an inaudible code into the audio portion of entertainment and advertising content. This code can be detected by the Arbitron Portable People Meter™ (PPM™).

What does this mean for the PPM service? Theoretically, any digitally processed content – programming, commercials, and so on – can be encoded with this technology. Currently, a special “PPM™ Encoder” is required to insert the sub-audible code in the content, typically in the audio chain of the broadcaster. While perfect for measurement of media outlet audience, the current technology does not allow for the direct measurement of specific program elements like commercials and features. The Rhozet Carbon Coder will allow Arbitron to measure audience levels for all encoded media content – regardless of the source. For example, to measure exposure to a specific commercial or album track, you would need to know the exact time that the content aired on each outlet. You would then need to cross-tab this information with the PPM™ rating for that exact time, for every outlet. While not impossible, the current state of reporting of this information is quite challenging. One company, MediaMonitors (a division of RCS, which is owned by Clear Channel) has built a business around this process with ground-breaking products like Audience Reaction™ and Mscore™. MediaMonitors accomplishes this by electronically monitoring radio stations, storing “fingerprints” of the content in their database, and then cross-tabbing with the minute-by-minute PPM™ data. The power of MediaMonitor’s solution is that it does not require encoding of the content prior to broadcast. The weakness – in the new world of encoded content that Arbitron and Harmony are creating – is that for encoded content, you will be able to determine exposure whether or not the outlet itself is encoding. An advertiser would be able to have a window on exposure to a specific commercial – whether video or audio – across all platforms that are measurable by the PPM™ device. This is very powerful, and when fully matured, the technology will have the potential to change the media marketplace in very significant ways.

Imagine, if you will, a video that is originally aired on a broadcast TV network. The audio is re-broadcast on radio stations around the country. Clips of the video are posted on YouTube. Elements of the video are edited and placed in various podcasts. Re-runs air on cable networks. Jon Stewart airs a clip. You get the idea – all of the exposure to this content will be measurable in PPM™ markets if the original content is encoded with the Arbitron/Rhoznet Carbon Code.

This relatively quiet announcement at a trade show generally focused on broadcast engineering will have a profound impact on the entire business of media. And, it’s another “shot across the bow” by Arbitron to it’s rival, Nielsen.

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