The Arbitron Co. and Nielsen Media Research plan the first U.S. tests during the fourth quarter of a pager-sized device that can measure local television and radio usage both in and out of the home.
Arbitron began developing the Arbitron "Portable People Meter" in 1992, and it conducted field trials of the device-which detects codes embedded in broadcast, cable and radio audio feeds-in Manchester, England, in 1998 and 1999.
Last week, the company cut a deal with Nielsen that gives the ratings giant the option to "join Arbitron in a future deployment of the PPM system in the United States," according to a prepared statement.
Nielsen and Arbitron officials wouldn't elaborate on the terms of the deal or on whether they would form a joint venture to measure local ratings with PPMs. Nielsen still plans to conduct tests of its own system to measure out-of-home viewing, spokesman Jack Loftus said.
The companies plan to test the PPM in the Philadelphia DMA in two phases. During the fourth quarter, they will deploy 300 of the devices in the Wilmington, Del., market, which is part of the DMA. In late 2001, they plan to increase the sample to cover the Philadelphia market.
In order for the system to work, radio stations, broadcasters and cable networks must agree to encode all of their programming using hardware supplied by Arbitron.
The devices pick up any radio or television audio signal within range of people in the sample wearing the PPMs-whether sitting at home, in a car, in a hotel or in a bar. Before they go to bed, users are supposed to place the PPM in a base station in their home, which extracts data and recharges the PPM battery. The data are then sent to Arbitron via a telephone connection.
Arbitron spokesman Thom Mocarsky said no radio, cable or broadcast networks have committed to participate in the trial. But he added that Arbitron has had "very good support from the radio groups" and preliminary talks with basic-cable networks.
The company hopes the top 40 basic-cable networks will participate in the trial, Mocarsky said.
There's currently no metered system to measure out-of-home viewing, so the Arbitron PPM could boost networks like ESPN, which may be able to show advertisers how many people watch the network in sports bars and other venues.
"We have a lot at stake here," ESPN vice president of research and sales development Artie Bulgrin said.
ESPN plans to meet with Arbitron within the next couple of weeks to review the trial, Bulgrin said, adding, "Barring any technical problem, I can tell you we will want to participate in this."