Reality media hit back shop

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As the u.s. test of portable people meters draws near, agency media buyers and advertisers hungrily eye the possibilities of more and better audience information.

"I wish them luck," says Kate Lynch, worldwide research director, Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago. "It's definitely where we want to go."

Three hundred portable people meters will hit the streets of Wilmington, Del., this fall. A joint project of Arbitron Co. and Nielsen Media Research, the test will use the meters to measure radio, broadcast TV and cable exposures of a single consumer, both in and out of home.


Currently, radio uses the diary method to measure audiences, while local TV uses a combination of diaries and fixed set measurements. Each has its own methods.

"Portable people meters let us see what happens to [the consumer] throughout the day," says Henry Laura, VP-sales and marketing, Arbitron Advertiser/Agency Service. "What happens when they wake up? Do they turn on the `Today' show or turn on the radio? They get in the car, drive to work, listen to the radio. At work, do they listen to the radio? At lunch, they're exposed to more media. Coming home, we can watch patterns -- is it radio or TV?"

With this insight into one person's media life, media buyers can determine "how to best deliver the right message in the right media at the right time to the right people," Mr. Laura says.

Just as important is the consistent set of information and criteria used throughout various media.

"Do you remember when Procter & Gamble Co. said it was pulling out of the local TV market because it didn't have confidence in diaries? This will give us all the same information about all audiences," says Tom Mocarsky, Arbitron VP-communications.

"It's a very positive movement in the right direction to harness the technology available in this technological environment," says Chris Gagen, Coca-Cola Co.'s North American director of media. "The potential to replace local diaries is great. Without a doubt, this could be the standard for single source information. It could be extremely beneficial."

"Consistency is important for multimedia optimalization," says Ms. Lynch. "Our multinational clients are very interested in information from portable people meters."

Piquing their interest was a successful U.K. test, which ended in February. Mr. Laura says the test indicated that encoded signals were read and showed people would be willing to carry the device.

Those same challenges await in the U.S.

"The issue is cooperation, for both consumers and business," says David Ernst, senior VP-media research at TN Media, New York. "Will respondents wear the device? Is it a burden placed on them?


"On the business end, there's much more," he adds. "Programs must be encoded for the device to understand what is being listened to and watched."

Mr. Laura says those issues have been addressed.

Nielsen remains optimistic. "We're hopeful, but we don't know how it will work," says Jack Loftus, senior VP-communications.

Nielsen is hedging its bet, installing its own low-cost meter system, introducing people meters into Boston, expanding metered services on TV sets, and expanding diaries.

Personal people meter information could be manipulated many ways, including integrating it with other ratings data and proprietary information from marketers.

Arbitron's hopes run high. If all media are "supporting the same system, contributing to the same pool, we can share costs and, a larger sample could be more economically feasible," Mr. Mocarsky says and notes encoding of TV commercials could become a possibility.