Testing of the device, called Actual Radio Measurement, has been going on for about four years, and now maker ARM expects to wrap up financing perhaps as soon as this month.
That would enable the company to move it beyond Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and several smaller markets where it has been in operation.
The suitcase-sized device is chained to a pole next to the roadside, where it is able to capture AM or FM frequencies in cars within 100 feet. Data are collected for about 18 hours at a time, then downloaded. The company will collect data as often as clients request.
ARM President Karl Baehr trumpets immediate availability of data and targetability.
However, some executives are concerned about truly random sampling and the information's usability.
"How can you establish a location that is representative of a city?" asked Stuart Gray, senior VP-director of media resources at BBDO Worldwide, New York. "Key to using that methodology is the projectability of the data."
For a sprawling market such as Los Angeles, up to six boxes would be used; two or three are likely in smaller markets, said Richie Farris, ARM VP-sales and marketing. ARM also has a model it uses to project data citywide.
The service is expected to be provided free to ad agencies for a period of time, and to radio stations by barter in exchange for ad units ARM or a representative can resell.
"Because there is so much in-car listening, this will be very, very valuable," said Richard Lauber, supervisor of spot radio at FCB/
Leber Katz Partners.
HOME, OFFICE RATINGS
Since about 30% of radio listening is done in automobiles, ARM is looking at a way to detect home and office listening as well.
Mr. Baehr doesn't try to create sweeping claims about overtaking industry ratings giant Arbitron, which now doesn't break out in-car listening.
"If you go out to agencies and say, `We have a better thing and you have to go out and retrain all your people to use us,' what do you think will happen? We'll be [failed Arbitron competitor] Birch," he said. "We're designed to be integrated into current media buying."
Arbitron has met with ARM but the two have no formal relations.