Ana Viseu on 16 Aug 2000 17:15:33 -0000

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

[Nettime-bold] 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.

Nettime-bold mailing list