December 27, 2001–January 3, 2002
cover story | what happened next
"It Knows What You Saw Last Tuesday"
The story: Media research company Arbitron chose the Philadelphia market to test its Portable People Meter, a pager-sized device that monitors the wearer’s TV and radio exposure by detecting inaudible signals embedded in a wide variety of broadcasts. Arbitron believed the PPM will revolutionize market research for the broadcast media by reducing reliance on flawed traditional methods such as diary-keeping.
What happened next: In October, Media Life magazine (www.medialifemagazine.com) reported that early results from PPM field tests in Wilmington, Del., (considered part of the Philly media market) "differ[ed], wildly in some cases, from numbers recorded by diary entrants.… The results may confirm that the diary-based system, which serves as the basis for many of the decisions about when and where $35.1 billion in local ad time is placed, is as bad as media people have long complained about. Or the discrepancies may simply mean that Arbitron’s test of 300 people is too small to gauge the accuracy of the PPM, at least for television." Arbitron mentioned none of this in its Dec. 13 press release announcing "the successful completion" of the Wilmington trials, but another round of testing begins in January — with 1,500 people this time, spread throughout the Philly market. "By the second quarter of 2002," said Marshall Snyder, Arbitron’s president of PPM development, "the industry will have the first direct comparisons of PPM audience estimates for individual radio and TV stations as well as cable networks. This is the information our customers have been looking forward to as they prepare to use a new way of measuring radio, television and cable audiences."