Arbitron Reveals 'Pod Meter,' PPM Measures Radio Podcasts

In a development that may say as much about the future of radio broadcasting as it does about the future of media audience measurement, Arbitron Tuesday announced that its new portable people meter system could successfully track podcasts. While the ultimate potential of podcasts--listener-generated radio programs distributed over the Internet--may be debatable, the technology is one of a progression of digital media applications that are transforming how, when, and why people listen to the medium, and are requiring both radio broadcasters, and the company that measures their audiences, to become more resourceful.

In fact, Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest radio broadcaster, recently issued a request for proposal inviting media research firms to step forward with new "state-of-the-art" methods for measuring radio. Arbitron, which has been trying to convince the radio industry to support the costly rollout of its new PPM system, believes it has the method. In fact, Arbitron worked with Clear Channel on its field test using PPMs to measure podcasts.

During the week of July 18, Arbitron encoded several podcasts by Clear Channel's WHTZ-FM (Z100) in New York, which were uploaded to the podcast portion of Apple's iTunes Music Store. The Z100 podcasts were then downloaded to an MP3 player and played over headsets using the PPM headset adapter. The PPM detected and recorded the unique identification codes that were embedded in the MP3 file.

"We're committed to delivering Clear Channel Radio's outstanding original content through a wide variety of delivery methods, including podcasting," stated John Hogan, Clear Channel Radio president and CEO. In an "if-you-can't-beat-them, join them" approach to the new technology, Clear Channel and rival radio biggie Infinity Broadcasting, have begun to deploy various podcasting formats on their stations.

One of the most interesting things about the PPM's ability to track podcasts is that the inherent nature of the ratings device's mobility may ultimately shed new light on the mobile nature of the new radio platform. Although podcasts require Internet downloads, the audio files are typically played on portable devices like iPods, which can be taken anywhere.

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