BBM ponders major overhaul

BBM Bureau of Measurement, the non-profit industry-funded radio and tv measurement service, is emerging from a decade of dizzying change and frequent controversy poised to implement major changes to its services and its organizational structure.These adjustments are directed at both near-term...

BBM Bureau of Measurement, the non-profit industry-funded radio and tv measurement service, is emerging from a decade of dizzying change and frequent controversy poised to implement major changes to its services and its organizational structure.

These adjustments are directed at both near-term and long-range goals.

As to the here-and-now, bbm is in the midst of a complete overhaul of its mainstay service, the diary method of tv audience measurement.

But the long-range plans that have the media business abuzz with interest involve bbm’s participation in the planning and possible implementation of a passive people meter measurement system.

bbm president Owen Charlebois says bbm is part of an active but as-yet-informal industry group that includes other partners in Canada, the u.s. and Japan.

The group includes bbm, u.s.-based Arbitron, peac/Viewfacts of Don Mills, Ont. and a Japanese partner.


bbm refers to the project as the 4p-meters: Personal Portable Passive People meters. This new system is the core element of bbm’s proposal to a television audience measurement committee chaired by Greg Ross of Procter and Gamble, which is also evaluating a competing proposal from A.C. Nielsen. The committee was formed by a pan-industry group including ad agencies, advertisers and broadcasters. Its mandate is to co-operatively examine the possibility of developing a new method of local market measurement in Canada.

bbm’s proposed 4p-meter system requires broadcasters to insert an inaudible (to the viewer) code into the audio portion of tv broadcasts.

The code transmits individual station call letters without affecting the quality of the sound that the viewer hears.

(Researchers are now trying to determine how frequently this code ought to be transmitted, taking into account the ultimate objective of measuring frequent channel changing.)

The viewer is equipped with a device that picks up these codes and then records exposure. Each viewer will have his or her own receiver, meaning that it is truly personal.


During the current first generation of development, researchers are looking at a receiver that will probably be the size of a common pager.

However, Charlebois says that looking ahead, there is already discussion of a second-generation miniaturized receiver that could come in the form of a pendant, a watch, or possibly even earrings, depending on what’s most comfortable for the viewer.

A top executive from Arbitron is scheduled to attend an October meeting of the bbm board of directors to give an official update on 4p-meter and to formally invite bbm’s participation in the project.


Charlebois says a laboratory prototype is expected to be ready for test in November or December in the u.s. Also this fall, an ergonomics test will be conducted to determine people’s initial reactions to the idea.

Over the next 12 months the system will be field-tested by the consortium, and bbm says a fully operational system could be in place within three to four years.

Charlebois says that, again, because of the cost efficiency of the diary method he does not see diaries being replaced by 4p-meters immediately.

Rather, he sees it becoming a useful complement with such advantages as:

– The ability to measure tv audiences out-of-home since the receivers are portable. Charlebois says statistics indicate out-of-home viewership is becoming an increasingly important issue as it continues to rise.

- The passive element removes some of the onus from the respondents.

- Rapid data turnaround, probably at some point over the telephone using a modem.

- There is a built-in flexibility allowing researchers to run a variety of panels and to conduct surveys involving special groups or geographic areas.

- And, since the system is based on an audio code, it has the potential of being used for radio audience measurement as well.

‘We are taking the position that this represents the future,’ Charlebois says.

‘It may not be the only answer, but it is a pathway, and we’ve decided to embark on this windy, bumpy road,’ he says.

‘I feel it is incumbent upon us to look at all the options. We’re not wedded to any one particular technology or methodology.

‘Technologically, it [4p-meters] is moving ahead, and I have very little doubt that technologically it will get there.

‘In the end, however, it will always boil down to the reliability of the respondent.’

Charlebois says the overriding objective in the advance of tv audience research technology, ‘is to ask someone to do as little as possible for as short a period of time as possible.’

Meanwhile, in case anyone is wondering whether the changes at bbm imply that its diary system is facing the same uncertain fate as the ratings flops it tracks, Charlebois sets the record straight in unequivocal terms:

‘I believe in the diary system, and I believe it can be improved.’

Yes, there are obstacles that the system must overcome, such as the potential confusion and sheer workload a respondent faces in the new multi-channel universe; the fact that people flip through these channels quickly; and the increasing difficulty respondents have in recognizing stations they are watching at any given time.

But Charlebois says there are also inherent strengths in the diary method that make it worth refining.

As audiences get more fragmented, and as advertisers’ need to target their audiences becomes greater, the requirement for larger and larger audience sample sizes will similarly increase.

Charlebois says because of their low cost relative to electronic measurement, diaries will continue to be able to generate larger sample size numbers, and that probably will not change.

He says the accepted industry estimate is that people-metered measurement costs between $4,500 to $6,500 per household per year.

With non-returns taken into account, the one-week diary method ends up costing about $20 per person.

A two-diary household would cost $40. Annualized over the 25 weeks of bbm regional network diary measurement, this equates to $1,000 per household per year.

Since the beginning of this year, bbm has been working on what amounts to an overhaul of the diary system.

It is being called rostered diarying because the proposed new diaries contain a roster of actual tv programming.

Currently, diaries are in the form of small stapled notebooks. They cover a week of viewing. Each day is divided into time slots of 15-minute intervals.

Beside each slot there is an empty space in which the viewer is expected to fill out whether the tv set was on or off, the name of the program watched, the station or call letters, the channel number and finally the person(s) watching.

Charlebois concedes this is a lot to ask of people.

The new system being tested would basically turn the diary notebook into a tv listing.

Not only does it look like the same kind of program grid that you find in newspapers and tv magazine listings, complete with programming, tv station call letters and local cable listings, but it is customized as well to include date, name of the viewer and the viewer’s local cable or broadcast programming.

‘We believe that diary rostering represents a change that could result in significantly better data,’ Charlebois says.

The new procedure being evaluated by bbm follows a two-step process. It begins with a random phone call into the population soliciting potential viewers.

During this intitial phone call, it is determined where the person(s) lives according to postal code, thus identifying local cable service. A customized form is created and sent to the household.

As in the past, the diary covers a week-long period. The number of diaries sent to each household is determined by the number of tv sets.

bbm is consulting with the broadcast and marketing industry about the proposed new system.

This fall, it will go into test with a group of about 100 people. This will be followed up by focus group studies to probe in detail respondents’ reactions to the new system.

bbm plans to present preliminary results of the fall test at an industry seminar planned for Dec. 9 in Toronto called ‘Staying Tuned II.’

The meeting itself will be something of a milestone.

bbm organized a similar meeting last year with the Canadian Advertising Research Foundation as a first-time effort to bring people together to discuss pressing industry issues. About 270 people from tv and radio attended.

Charlebois says reaction to last year’s day-long seminar was so enthusiastic bbm decided to hold a second meeting this year again with carf and has invited its industry rival A.C. Nielsen to become involved as a formal participant.

The next step in bringing the rostered diary to market will occur next spring when bbm will conduct a coincidental telephone survey parallel to the current diary and the rostered method.

Telephone-generated audience research, though expensive, is still acknowledged as the most accurate and authoritative measure of audience viewership.

Charlebois says the telephone study will act ‘as the benchmark’ by which the diary methods will be judged.

‘If you assume that the telephone method of testing is the truth – or another version of the truth – then the closer the roster method comes to the telephone survey, the more comfortable we’ll feel,’ he says.

Should the roster method come through the fall and spring tests with positive results, bbm will take the idea through another round of industry consultation and possibly bring a recommendation before the bbm board of directors in the fall of 1993 and if it gets a go-ahead there, rostered diarying could be in place in the spring of 1994.

Charlebois recognizes that there are still some mechanics that rostered diarying must resolve, to say nothing of the wider industy concerns that will inevitably surface in the face of such a radical and fundamental change in the way television viewership is measured.

On the technical side, there is the potential problem of last-minute programming schedule changes.

Charlebois says he does not believe that will be a big issue since bbm is looking at about a two-week turnaround between the time it gets the programming information from broadcasters to the date the diaries are sent out, which he says is about the same time-frame broadcasters need to make the changes.

The bigger issue will probably be dealing with the reaction of the tv industry to the changes that a new audience measurement system will likely bring about.

‘There will always be winners and losers,’ Charlebois says.

‘That, however, is not an issue of methodology or of research,’ he says.

‘That is a business issue. We have to keep our focus on providing the industry with the best possible data, which means looking at the diary system itself, at response rates and at the quality of the data.

‘We are convinced that rostering helps people with the task. It’s easier to fill out, and if that’s the case it should help improve response rates.’

Another question bound to be raised is the fact that rostering will move the diary system from unaided to aided methodology, since call letters and programming will be identified.

‘The objective is not to increase the ratings of tv stations,’ Charlebois says. ‘We are simply in pursuit of a more accurate tv rating system.

‘nadbank (sponsored by the newspaper industry) and pmb (like bbm, an industry-supported organization that among other things measures magazine readership) are both methods of testing that are based on aided recall.

‘This (rostered diaries) will simply create a level playing field of media measurement,’ Charlebois says.

In other bbm developments, its Comquest profit-oriented research division, launched a year ago, is expanding field research capabilities and in addition to various general marketing research projects, is conducting a major study of ethnic tv viewership for Toronto multilingual broadcaster cfmt.

The study will measure the viewing habits of a sample of 3,000 people equally divided among people of Chinese, Italian and Portuguese origin. Results should be available this spring.

As well, bbm is in the midst of a complete ‘re-engineering’ of its organization and its services.

The process began in February and is being done in partnership with Xerox.

Changes involve a complete rewrite of bbm’s data processing software system to make it more user-friendly and analytically flexible, Charlebois says.

(bbm processes about 70,000 diaries each for radio and tv when it does a ratings sweep.)

Also in the name of improved efficiency, the organization is planning to bring its computer system in-house and is evaluating a new communications system that would eventually allow bbm to deliver its data to its customers electronically.

‘We are using quality re-engineering principles to research and re-evaulate everything we do as an organization,’ Charlebois says.