Arbitron: Portable Meter Tests Poised To End, No Nielsen Venture In Sight

Arbitron and its erstwhile portable people meter partner Nielsen Media Research will conclude engineering tests of the promising new media measurement system this summer, but Arbitron still doesn't have a firm indication whether Nielsen will move forward on plans to develop a joint venture TV and radio ratings system.

"It's right on track," Steve Morris, president and chief executive officer of Arbitron, said Tuesday during a first quarter earnings briefing with analysts and investors.

While the PPM promises to be a breakthrough technology, passively capturing consumers' media exposure both at home and out of home - a traditional weak spot in both TV and radio ratings - big questions remain over the efficacy of the technology. Arbitron completed a series of tests in the Philadelphia area and is preparing a second test that will include more Hispanic audiences in the Houston metro region.

The PPM has already been deployed in Canada and is licensed for other marketers overseas. Should it get deployed in the U.S., Arbitron has aggressive plans to add other media, including a print measurement component, as well as a separate product usage panel that would create a humongous single source database akin to Arbitron's old ScanAmerica plan in the 1980s.



Financial and other joint venture-related issues have to be worked out, Morris said.

At the Television Bureau of Advertising annual conference last week, Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting said more work needed to be done before her company decided on the fate of the joint venture with Arbitron.

At the same time, the portable people meter technology holds promise for two other Arbitron initiatives, measurement systems for outdoor and a marketing initiative that ties purchase data to media choices. The outdoor measurement system, which competes with a similar one being developed by Nielsen, focuses on a GPS-based method. As for the marketing initiative, the enactment of that offering will depend on whether there's an active customer base for it. That's what Arbitron is waiting for, Morris said.

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