Are Portable Meters the Device of the Future?


New York— In the not-too-distant future, some TV- and
cable-ratings researchers may borrow from American Express Co.'s old ad-campaign slogan:
"Don't leave home without it."

The "it" in this case will be a portable ratings
meter, and not travelers' checks.

This beeper-sized tool could enable TV and cable networks,
as well as ad-agency buyers and their clients, to finally get a handle on consumers'
viewing patterns outside of the home-in bars, in campus dorms, even who's watching
The Weather Channel in hotels.

Arbitron Co. is testing that sort of portable ratings meter
in Manchester, England, calling it the Personal Portable Meter. Although Arbitron has been
conducting technical trials with TV stations in unspecified U.S. markets this year, it
doesn't plan to re-enter the U.S. TV-ratings fray.

Nor will ADcom Information Services Inc., in which Arbitron
has a stake, use these devices, since its system is based on in-set metering.

But Arbitron didn't rule out the possibility that it could
license the technology to others in this country.

Consumers would wear the pager-sized decoders, which can
pick up encoded, inaudible audio signals from electronic media — TV, cable, radio or
the Internet. Later, the consumers would plug the device into at-home "docking
stations" to download the viewing data, which would be transmitted to Arbitron, a
company spokesman explained.

In a background paper, the research firm said it first
began development of the PPM — also referred to as "an electronic diary"
— with Martin Marietta Corp. in the mid-1980s, but it didn't announce it until 1992.

A Nielsen Media Research spokesman said that the company is
exploring the use of such a portable ratings meter as part of its agreement with Lucent
Technologies, which was signed last year. But he emphasized that this was far from

Some ad-agency executives were cautiously optimistic about
the potential for portable ratings meters. Audrey Steele — formerly vice president at
Zenith Media Services who will take a research job at Fox on Dec. 4 — said she had no
idea how close such a meter was to reality. But she pointed out that "making a
commitment and doing it are two different things."

More pressing, Steele said, was for Nielsen to move ahead
on its Active/Passive Meter test. Nielsen's spokesman agreed that projects such as the A/P
Meter will take precedence.

Steve Grubbs, BBDO Worldwide's executive vice president,
said he has heard that still other companies are exploring similar futuristic measurement
devices, but he concurred that such plans to measure out-of-home viewing were likely
"still a few years off."