Tom Taylor's new Taylor On Radio-Info daily e-newsletter brought up a very interesting point in the November 20th issue on the technology to use Cell Phones instead of the Arbitron PPM system. Tom speculates on why Arbitron doesn't move to a Smart Cell Phone system instead of trying to equip enough people with PPM devices. Tom makes a GREAT point here.
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Let's dive in and take a little deeper look at the possibility here.
- The technology has already been developed. Looking at the IMMI website they describe a system where the mic on the cell phone records 10 sec of audio every 30 seconds then links to a server and compares the files with audio recorded from radio station in the area. When they hit a match you have a listener.
- There are also other systems out there from Ipsos (a French based international research firm) that was planning on teaming up with The Media Audit to also produce cell phone based data collection. Ipsos already does this type of research in some European countries, but they don't explain their system on-line. When Clear Channel's campaign to look for rating alternatives faded away it looks like The Media Audit may have tabled the idea.
In reality moving to the Cell Phone for measurement would be a HUGE advantage and while PPM is still in it's infancy it's one that our industry NEEDs to push to pursue.
Look at the cost of rolling out a device like PPM with encoding all the stations, getting 100s of thousands of the devices out in the field, and spending tons on recruiting people to keep the meters. And now we have the big sample issue. Still using the old 'land line' system of contacting people to participate just isn't working - especially with all the younger demos. You can easily see a time in the next 5 years where the land line sample reach under 50% of the population and in 10 years a land line will be only for DSL or maybe TV delivery.
We are nearing a point where over 80% of the population has a cell phone and even in the older demos and lower income households the cell phone is becoming the affordable and easy way to communicate.
Even if PPM is rolled out in the top 70 markets we still have the sample issues and in the rest of the markets we will still be using diaries for at least 10 more years or longer. Bet on longer here as the cost of PPM is high and markets over #50 will be pushed out as costs soar. The real issue here is sample - land lines are a dead end. Throwing more money at people won't get them to bother - we have to get more passive in gathering the data. Just like the Web records your visit to this site, how long you stay, and where you came from - we can gather data on radio listening from cell phone dectors in the same way.
People are up-grading cell phones at a rapid pace and soon we will probably see most of the cell phones be the smart ones that could take on the technology to monitor radio usage.
It could also be possible to team up with the cell phone providers and be able to pull in HUGE samples. Paul Allen (a Microsoft founder) recently claimed that soon we will see cell phone services given away for the marketing power in you hand. It could also be 'given away' by allowing you to use your cell to monitor your radio listening. How about 'free texting' if you sign up to be included in the sample? I bet that would bring on some participants.
The technology also needs to be tweaked. In Tom's piece Arbitron's Pierre Bouvard brings up that cell phones are in purses and pockets and could be left behind or in front of a radio all day. PPM has a motion detector to determine if it's on a person or left behind. The IMMI system also relies on the mic in the phone and comparison software to determine who you are hearing.
How about the smart phones and just put in a little inexpensive chip that would receive the FM or AM signal. Not only could we get radio on cell phones, but the receiver could also pick up the encoded signal from us and the data could be passed on the phone network to the ratings service server. The systems in place download a program to the cell phone that sets up the data transfer. You could send it to 100s of thousands of phones already in the system.
All we need is accurate data on who has the phone for age/sex and where they live. In fact we could also see where they are with the GPS function.
While we could go to the trouble of calling their land lines and paying everyone lots of cash every month to stay in the sample or we could go another route. How about just taking a random sample of the data from the 100s of thousands of cell phones pumping in data and then sending off a text message where they verify age/sex and we have our sample.
It's an ideal world where we have accurate data, coming in daily and it would probably cost a lot less than building a whole PPM system. Before we fund Arbitron's venture into building a proprietary infrastructure for the PPM, maybe we should look at funding the usage of Cell Phones instead. Not only would we get the data we'd also have FM/AM radios in every one's hands all the time. WOW.
Perhaps we need to quit complaining about sample issues and let new technology help us. There are lots of ideas and speculation in my piece, but we need to quit whining and start 'doing it.'