Evolution of electronic audience measurement

Mike Leahy is marketing manager, media services at Nielsen Marketing Research in Markham, Ont.In 1936, A.C. Nielsen acquired the Audimeter, the first set meter developed by Robert Elder and Louis Woodruff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.In 1942, the first commercial...

Mike Leahy is marketing manager, media services at Nielsen Marketing Research in Markham, Ont.

In 1936, A.C. Nielsen acquired the Audimeter, the first set meter developed by Robert Elder and Louis Woodruff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1942, the first commercial network radio measurement began.

The Audimeter kept a running 24-hour record of radio listening on wax tapes, which were collected monthly by Nielsen field reps and forwarded to the Nielsen head office for tabulating.

In 1949, a mailable Film Audimeter was introduced. Data were collected on a cartridge, which the sample home mailed to Nielsen for processing.

Instantaneous meter

In 1959, an instantaneous meter was used, continuously feeding viewing information via leased telephone lines to Nielsen’s computers.

In the early 1970s, the Nielsen Audimeter was improved to store data collected, and transmit the data once or twice daily to company computers.

All these devices measured household viewing. When combined with a paper diary, sample age and gender measurement was possible.

People meters were developed out of the desire for somewhat passive devices that would measure not just household tv usage, but individual viewing as well.

Better mousetrap

As televisions got more sophisticated and viewing options grew, there was a need for a better mousetrap.

In 1989, Nielsen launched the national people meter service designed to measure Canada’s national and regional networks.

The people meter, in its various forms, is being used in more than 20 countries worldwide.

Through the development of better television audience measurement tools, Nielsen has never lost sight of its goal to provide a passive television metering system; one that would be fast, dependable and non-intrusive.

Back in 1982, Nielsen engineers began experimenting with image processing for a people counting system

In 1984, a system which used sonar to count people in the viewing area was developed and demonstrated to the industry.

Between 1986-88, the Nielsen team developed a people counting system based on infrared technology and began experimenting with a semi-passive system based on ‘tags’ or small devices that people could wear instead of pushing buttons.

Passive system needed

Based on this research, it was concluded that a totally passive system was needed.

From 1989 to the present, a group of Nielsen engineers has been working with leading research laboratories and universities to develop a system to meet this need.

This new passive system, which will be tested in 1995, will identify people in the tv room, follow them as they move, and track them if they look away from the television.

The system is designed to allow people to watch tv with no interruption of their normal routine.