Nielsen, who has relied diaries to capture TV viewing data since the 1950’s, is poised to pick plastic over paper for local audience measurement business. Last month the ratings company announced a worldwide initiative to over a dozen different measurement devices it uses internationally with new “GTAM” units. The Global TV Audience Measurement devices will use audio watermarks to identify content on multiple viewing platforms.
The GTAM program will replace the current people meter — which Nielsen homes has been using since 1986 – with a new “Scrolling Text People Meter.” The flashing lights of the old peoplemeter will be replaced with a single line of scrolling text to prompt respondents to login and logout. The new device can support eight different languages.
But the biggest change promises to come from the roll out of the “Code Reader,” a new plastic-encased user-installable device which respondents will place within six feet of their TV speakers. Using a built-in microphone, the Code Reader listens for inaudible low-frequency watermarks which carry program codes and timestamps. A built-in cellphone modem then transmits these codes to Nielsen. The ratings company plans to validate the Code Reader with a side by side test with current measurement techniques during 4Q 2012.
The scrolling text meter and other GTAM components are tentatively planned for production in 1Q 2014. But reading between the lines of Nielsen announcement suggests that big changes could be coming to Nielsen’s diary based reporting in the 150+ smaller markets that don’t currently have electronic measurement. Instead of mailing out paper diaries that require a bewildered respondent to note the time and channel number and live or DVR status of every channel they watch — and the identity of every person who watched — a mailable “set it and forget it” code reader meter would be a big improvement. How demographics will be determined is still yet to be disclosed: Nielsen says they will model person demographics for code reader households.
In addition to the scrollable meter and the code reader, Nielsen plans to release a GTAM meter and a GTAM-lite box, with both devices deciding what’s being watched based on audio watermarks. GTAM Lite is a standalone install for typical households with the full GTAM meter having the ability to communicate with other Nielsen metering devices in a household.
Although the industry hasn’t been clamoring for Nielsen to replace it’s current peoplemeter, the company faces another kind of pressure: the active/passive meter that Nielsen currently employs is at the end of its life cycle and components are getting hard to come by. The company plans to roll out the GTAM and GTAM Lite units by 1Q 2014. In addition to reduced installation costs for Nielsen, the company says the new GTAM meters are more energy efficient and will use less of the homeowner’s electricity.
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