From having an early lead, Arbitron
has seen latecomers make ground and in the US the battle seems
to have narrowed down to their Portable People Meter
(PPM) system that depends on encoding identification in broadcast
signals and The Media Audit/Ipsos smart cell
phone system that used both encoding and audio matching techniques.
A third player, the Eurisko Media Monitor, which
relies on audio matching, is also being evaluated by UK Radio
Ratings organization RAJAR.
Eurisko seems in agreement with Arbitron on one point
- disadvantages of a cell-phone system but claims that its
audio matching technology is preferable since broadcasters
are not required to encode their signals.
TMA/Ipsos, on the other hand, claim the cell
phone as a plus since it is a readily available device that
as well as being capable of monitoring both an encoded signal
or audio matching a transmitted one also has built-in position-finding
technology for out of home or car monitoring.
The current battle
- The prime technologies.
In commenting on the technology of the
systems on offer we are relying largely on tests conducted
by RAJAR in the UK that last year (See
RNW Feb 15, 2005)
led GfK/Telecontrol MediaWatch to withdraw its
device from the test programme although RAJAR said it would
re-evaluate its decision in future if appropriate - and RAJAR
to test further the Arbitron PPM and the Eurisko Media Monitor.
In those tests RAJAR specified criteria, which the audiometers
should fulfil including the ability to identify all formats
equally against a variety of extraneous background noises,
when played at differing volume levels and regardless of whether
the wearers were stationary or in motion and found the Eurisko
Media Monitor to outperform the PPM (To
our surprise as we commented at the time). Considerations
of what nature of device should be used in our view are better
Arbitron's PPM - In technological terms this
seems to us the least desirable if it can be taken that the
other contenders provide results that are as accurate because
it can only record signals that have been encoded. We would
have expected much greater accuracy with encoded signals but
the RAJAR tests indicated that this was not necessarily so.
The Eurisko Media Monitor - Since the broadcaster
has to do nothing extra, technologically preferable to the
PPM with the same accuracy proviso.
The Media Audit/IPSOS Smart Phone - The best
of all worlds if it can match the accuracy of the other devices.
It can identify either through encoded signals or audio matching,
because it is a cell device sends information both on the
audio monitored and the device location back to base regularly,
thus enabling near real-time ratings, and can be offered as
a "dumb" version that acts only as a monitoring
The current battle
Here the main argument comes in terms
of the way people use devices. Both the PPM and Eurisko devices
are single purpose and thus there should be a reasonable expectation
that those who consent to carry them will use them as intended.
Cell phones, on the other hand, are devices that many, if
not most, people already have and there is a reasonable concern
that habits of use already entered into will continue. Many
people, for example, tend to switch mobiles off in a number
of locations either because of prohibitions (a hospital, dentists
or a theatre, for example), good manners and general consideration
(a funeral), or personal preferences (when driving or at home,
for example, when they may prefer to leave a cell phone off
and on charge overnight or at other times).
Without proper research it is not possible to quantitatively
evaluate how important these factors are but provision of
an extra "dumb" phone could potentially remove the
objections for those areas of use where people know they are
likely to switch a cell phone off routinely albeit there could
still be a problem with any device that transmits a signal
in areas where this is prohibited.
Our initial feeling is that this is probably not a major disadvantage
when set against potential advantages of near real-time ratings
The current battle
In this regard Arbitron would seem to
us to be playing to its existing strengths by getting advertisers
to sign on, in which it has been fairly successful; has tried
to do the same with broadcasters but with much less success;
and is putting much emphasis on being first to the market.
Its competitors are coming from behind and are relying more
on claims of superior technology allied with proposals to
broadcasters ( as with the TME/Ipsos proposal in response
to a Clear Channel call for ratings proposals issued
in June last year - See RNW
Jun 14, 2005) or those conducting ratings (As
with Eurisko's submission to RAJAR).
There is also the issue of cost about which we cannot say
much except to note that whichever way things pan out, the
existence of competitors will put pressure on all to keep
their pricing low.
The current battle
- likely outcomes.
On this matter we think things will
become much clearer when results are released of tests of
the various devices but indications so far suggest to us that
Arbitron will have to keep its charges much lower than it
hoped if it is to stay in the race.
Based on technology, we think that from what has been made
public so far, TMA/Ipsos has the edge in that its offering
can offer a greater range of options although we do note that
some of the objections to using a device that transmits a
signal (the "dumb" phone version of TMA/Ipsos) or
is a multi-use device (the Smart phone option) are relevant.
However if it has the same accuracy in audio matching as Eurisko
and the same accuracy in encoded signal recognition as the
PPM it is difficult not to consider its advantages as outweighing
We tend to assume that matching the encoded signal should
be fairly straightforward and if TMA/Ipsos fails on audio
matching, perhaps it could licence Eurisko's technology for
a joint bid that could offer a plain monitoring device whose
information is sent to base later, a "dumb" phone
that transmits the information back regularly (these first
could be a single device with a switch between modes), and
a fully-fledged smart phone.
Against that trio of offerings we tend to think any single-function
device is a loser.