Nielsen’s Webinar and conference call about the Portable People Meter and Voltair for radio ratings clients turned out to be something of an anticlimax, with few new facts or guidelines beyond the fact that Nielsen plans to update the PPM system.
The last few months have seen growing controversy over Voltair, a device manufactured by the Telos Alliance, which is apparently able to boost radio ratings by increasing the power behind the encoded signal that PPM is supposed to pick up.
The fact that stations using Voltair have experienced substantial ratings bumps has raised doubts as to whether PPM is actually measuring all the listening by itself, unassisted (although as Nielsen points out, it’s not clear which stations are actually using the device, leaving the correlation unclear as well).
After several months of research and testing with a Voltair unit, Nielsen still isn’t taking a position on this, beyond conceding that Voltair may help in certain cases of extreme audio interference. It has added that in these cases, it isn’t clear whether the exposure represents legitimate listening. Nielsen also repeated its “non-support” for the device, as previously stated in April.
On the other hand, the ratings firm also isn’t telling radio stations to stop using Voltair, although it did reveal that its own experiments with Voltair showed it can produce audible “artifacts” that disrupt the listening experience.
In June, Numeris -- Canada’s official radio ratings organization -- instructed all Canadian radio stations to stop using Voltair, meaning that different measurement standards now apply in the two countries.
By mostly avoiding the issue of whether Voltair can actually help PPM measure listening more precisely, Nielsen avoided admitting to any flaws with PPM itself or committing itself to fix them. However, the company also revealed new plans to improve PPM measurement through a number of updates, including an enhanced encoding system that should make it easier for PPM to detect the audio watermarks, due in the fourth quarter of the year.
Radio stations that have installed Voltair are free to continue using it, leaving what is probably the central concerns of broadcasters unaddressed: Does installing Voltair give some stations a (possibly unfair) advantage in radio ratings by expanding their apparent market share at the expense of rivals who aren’t using Voltair?
Conversely, should all radio stations begin using Voltair to even the playing field? Since the device costs around $15,000, these are not idle questions, but they will remained unaddressed for the time being at least.