Ana Viseu on 17 Aug 2000 00:09:25 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> architecture and privacy

An article from the NYTimes on audience measuring techniques that are also
relevant for the Web, and for the changes that are starting to be felt in
real space architecture due to tech. advances. 

Best. Ana
2000, August 16

Who Pays Attention to TV and Radio Commercials?  Whispercode Knows

They are everywhere, cluttering the radio dial and the broadcast and cable
television channels as never before: commercials, lots of them, jammed by
eager advertisers into what seems to be every available second of
programming time.  So is anyone actually paying attention?  Of course,
broadcasters say. 

But what proof do they have? 

Sure, there are the ratings, which are provided by services like Nielsen
for television and Arbitron for radio and which are supposed to track just
how many people are watching or listening to given programs at given
times.  But the relatively small audience samples and traditional
audience-measuring techniques used by these rating services --
hand-written diaries, for example, or manually operated people meters,
where participants push buttons when they watch television -- are said by
their detractors to be inexact and quaintly old-fashioned, unfairly
favoring traditional networks to the detriment of less-established media
outlets.  The result?  Advertisers are clamoring for more precise data,
and for the technology that can provide it, says Lee Weinblatt.  And Mr. 
Weinblatt thinks he can oblige. 

The chief executive of the Pretesting Company, based in Tenafly, N.J., Mr. 
Weinblatt is no stranger to audience response measurement.  For more than
a decade, his firm has been testing commercials for clients like
Anheuser-Busch, Burger King and Johnson & Johnson before they are
broadcast, determining whether viewers are likely to watch them or,
instead, to switch them off on sight.  And now he says that he has
developed something that goes even further: a passive system that measures
exactly who is in a room or automobile at the precise moment a television
or radio commercial is broadcast.  The new system is called Whispercode,
and unlike the firm's commercial pretesting, which is conducted in
specially outfitted locations, it operates entirely within the home or
automobile of its participants.  The system involves the encoding of
commercials with inaudible, identifying signals; test participants need do
nothing to activate it.  Instead, once transmitted, the encoded signals
are automatically detected by a small device worn by participants -- a
bracelet, for example, or a keychain -- that will function provided they
are in the room or car where the television set or radio emitting the
signal is located.  The devices are motion sensitive, so a participant
could not put one on the table and leave the house.  The device then sends
a signal to a nearby recording box "the size of a paperback book,"
according to Mr.  Weinblatt, and the box records the fact that the wearer
was in the room when the commercial was broadcast.  It even records
whether a viewer leaves the room in the middle of a commercial.  The
device later downloads its data via modem to a central computer, which
makes it available to advertisers the next morning.  Mr.  Weinblatt says
the system will be in place in a "few thousand" homes by year-end, and in
thousands more by the end of 2001.  Participants will be chosen at random,
but in a manner that is demographically accurate and representative of a
cross-section of American households, he said.  And they will be
compensated for their involvement by various premiums or coupons -- no
cash -- relating to products or services like dry cleaning, which are
probably not among those that will be advertised and measured via
Whispercode..  "With Whispercode, we will finally be providing our clients
with a true accounting of where their advertising money is going," he
said.  Perhaps.  Still, despite expressions of interest from various
advertisers and a satellite broadcaster, no one has signed up for
Whispercode, Mr.  Weinblatt acknowledged.  And even Whispercode has its
limitations; while the system may provide an accurate gauge of a person's
physical presence at the time of a broadcast, any couch potato can tell
you that that does not necessarily mean that he or she is actually
listening or watching.  Or, for that matter, whether he or she is even
awake.  "That is a flaw inherent in any passive monitoring system," 
commented Anne Elliot, a spokeswoman for Nielsen Media Research, the
television rating company.  Active survey devices like Nielsen's people
meter are therefore better in many ways, she said, because they require
participants to actually do something to indicate when they start or stop
viewing a show.  But people meters also have problems, because they are
dependent on the honesty of participants and their willingness to keep
pushing buttons, among other things.  And so, despite their drawbacks,
passive systems still "have enough interest for people like us for us to
investigate them, too," Ms.  Elliot said.  Nielsen Media Research has in
fact signed an agreement with Arbitron, the radio survey company, to
participate in a test of just such a system, the Arbitron Portable People
Meter.  Similar to Mr.  Weinblatt's Whispercode (the Pretesting Company
actually sued Arbitron back in the mid-1990's for patent infringement with
regard to the Portable People Meter, but lost the case in 1996), the
Arbitron system differs, however, in one significant respect: it encodes
entire programs, not commercials.  Arbitron began shipping encoding
devices to Philadelphia-area radio stations this week.  It expects to
begin testing in a few months and, if testing is successful, to use the
meters eventually to replace the manual paper and pencil diaries now
maintained by its radio ratings participants, said an Arbitron spokesman,
Thom Mocarsky, who added that "everyone who has seen the system is very
impressed." Everyone, that is, except Mr.  Weinblatt, who contends that
its failure to measure commercials makes the Portable People Meter an
inferior device, and that Arbitron and Nielsen are more concerned with
preserving an obsolete status quo than with truly measuring audience.  Not
so, Mr.  Mocarsky says.  "Our system can encode anything," he said.  "But
we've decided to base it on programming and not commercials because that
is the standard today.  It's simply a different technique." 

Tudo vale a pena se a alma nao e pequena.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: