March 2006

The battle for rating.

The battle for rating.

The battle for ratings that has from very early days been a major factor in radio is now being matched in intensity by a another kind of ratings battle- the one to be the organization that conducts ratings when the inevitable move to electronic metering rather than the diary system takes place.

The history of ratings doesn't offer much guidance as to who is going to end up the winner albeit we suspect cost as much as quantity is likely to be a major factor in the decision: However we felt in the context of looking at the current battle that a brief run through the history was worthwhile.
Obviously at the very start - the first authenticated voice broadcast was on Christmas Eve 1906 from Brant Rock, Massachusetts by the Canadian engineer Reginald Fessenden (albeit Kentucky inventor Nathan Stubblefield claimed to have made a transmission in 1892) and in a sense it could be considered a change from a digital Morse code to an analogue voice broadcasting system - ratings weren't in anybody's minds.
They only came about once there was a demand from advertisers to know how many people a station was attracting.

In 1912 the US government introduced licences for broadcasters and a number of stations were launched but the first radio advert we can trace was made in February 1922 from New York station WEAF, which later that year is credited with a broadcast of the first sponsored programme - and it would appear that the advertiser, whose ten minutes talk cost USD 50, reckoned the return was USD 27,000 in sales.

A year later Arthur C. Nielsen founded the A.C. Nielsen Company whose market research activity included radio ratings work but the first regular system was not introduced until 1930 when the Association of National Advertisers asked Archibald Crossley to organize the first national rating service. The Crossley ratings were based on phone calls to ask people what they had listened to the night before and they lasted until 1935.

After then various commercial company offerings began to be used, although the Crossleys did not die out until 1946, primarily the Hoopers, run by C. E. Hooper, Inc.: These asked people what they were listening to and ran until 1948-9.

Also being used were the Pulse ratings that used face-to-face interviewing in which people were asked to name the stations they had listened to with their memory being jogged if they could not remember names, by showing them a roster of station call letters.

All the methods were labour intensive and by the late 60's effectively dead or dying with a battle to replace them being fought primarily by two diary-based services, MediaStat and Arbitron: No guesses as to who won.

An important point to note however is that Arbitron's victory was largely based on support from the advertising agencies and group owned and operated stations rather than from the mass of small owners: This time round they have done well so far getting the former to sign up but not very well with the broadcasters so the field appears to still be wide open.

The current battle - The prime contenders.

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 considered in terms of users than technology.

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 device.

The current battle - Users.

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 delivery.

The current battle -company tactics.

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 the disadvantages.

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.

What you think? Please E-mail your comments.

Comment index ........ E-Mail us with your comments
Front Page About this site Freelance bulletin
Site audio files Radio Stations Other links Archives Index Comment Pages Your feedback Browsers
players, 38 Creswick Road, Acton, London W3 9HF, UK: