Portable People Meter takes measurement out of home

Thomas Mocarsky has seen the future of audience measurement, and it is portable. Mocarsky, vice-president of communications with Columbia, Md.-based media research firm Arbitron, says his company's Portable People Meter will be able to gauge what people are watching and listening...

Thomas Mocarsky has seen the future of audience measurement, and it is portable.

Mocarsky, vice-president of communications with Columbia, Md.-based media research firm Arbitron, says his company’s Portable People Meter will be able to gauge what people are watching and listening to even when they’re not at home.

‘The person is exposed to all kinds of media and environments,’ says Mocarsky. ‘This is giving us a lock on what the out-of-home audience is.’

Mocarsky says the technology will also allow advertisers to track a person’s media consumption habits across all broadcast media, rather than simply track the signal of a single media appliance, as current systems do.

‘TV, radio, cable, satellite, Internet – it’s measured together, it’s one sample, and all the measures are completely comparable.’

The PPM is a small, pager-sized device that relies on audio encoding of broadcast signals to track an individual’s consumption of television, radio or Internet programming.

The concept was first introduced to the Canadian marketing industry in 1992, but at the time, the PPM was thought to be too unwieldy and its battery life too short for practical consideration.

Since that time, Arbitron has fine-tuned the technology to the point where it was successfully tested in Manchester, England. The company plans a further ‘showcase’ test later this year in the U.S., Mocarsky says. The battery life of the unit has been increased to 22 hours, and that is expected to increase further, he says, thanks to the demands of the cellular and PCS phone industry.

In Canada, BBM Bureau of Measurement holds the rights to Arbitron’s PPM technology. Both BBM and competitor Nielsen Media Research currently use systems that measure all forms of television, including Web-enabled TV. But neither BBM’s Picture Matching technology, which relies on video recognition, nor Nielsen’s Tuner Probe technology, which recognizes broadcast signals, can provide information on media consumption outside the home or measure other media such as radio.

David Bray, senior vice-president of Hennessy, Bray & Reade Communications and its RadioWorks division, is a supporter of people meters and looks forward to the day when they can also measure radio audiences.

He says the current system, whereby respondents log their listening habits in paper diaries, is less than reliable when it comes to tracking men in the 18-24 demographic.

‘It’s strictly a factor of that particular segment not filling in ballots. There always been lower compliance,’ he says.

BBM remains committed to its Picture Matching technology, but Ron Bremner, vice-president of television for BBM, says the system is flexible and can easily be augmented by newer technology.

At Nielsen Media Research, Mike Leahy, group vice-president sales and marketing, says his company has a project underway to develop systems that will measure across media. But whether the resulting technology will be portable is too early to say.

‘We firmly believe that there will be some instances where broadcasters will not encode, and instances where the code doesn’t survive compression. If there’s no code to pick up, you need a back up,’ says Leahy.

‘Our focus is to make sure you don’t lose any data. The portability of it – that’s something for the future.’

* * *

Meanwhile, BBM has signed multi-year deals with a number of broadcasters and agencies in support of the national rollout of its people meter service this fall.

All Canadian conventional broadcasters, with the notable exception of CBC, along with several specialty channels and ad agencies have inked five-year contracts with the tripartite organization.

BBM, which has a 500-home meter panel in Vancouver, will add 750 homes in Ontario and 365 in Quebec.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group