Once again, the smartphone question for Arbitron


For years now outside observers have been pressing Arbitron to switch from its proprietary meters and just have panelists download its Portable People Meter (PPM) program into their smartphones – saving money and making it easier to get people to carry PPM. It is not that simple, but the Arbitron folks say it is still being looked at.

Gilford Securities analyst Jim Boyle was the one to ask the question in Wednesday’s conference call, after Arbitron released its Q4 results. “Any further announcements or comments or color on getting PPM into smartphones,” the analyst asked.

“No further announcements obviously,” said Executive Vice President, US Media Services Sean Creamer. “It’s an important, ongoing initiative on our part. We have proven that we have the capability to do it, but as I think I’ve mentioned on these calls in the past, there’s some technological challenges that certainly can be overcome. But from a research perspective today, the combination of the smartphone penetration, the battery life issues, as well as some issues around microphones and their ability to do what we need PPM to do are limiting factors in terms of a more timely rollout. Those will, in fact, sort of solve themselves as time goes on,” he said.

“Clearly we have proven to ourselves that it can be done. The question is can it be done in a panel our size and still yield demographically projectable samples. It’s a major effort on our part. As for the term smartphones, our view is actually that we are device agnostic. Our goal would be to get PPM on as many consumer devices as possible – and the way to do that is to have it downloadable. We have proven it can be downloaded into a smartphone, but that shouldn’t be viewed as limiting it to the only place we would be looking to download it,” Creamer explained.

“So ask again in 2012,” Boyle joked.

“Even then it depends on smartphone penetration rates and it depends on technology advancements. Certainly it will be deployed by us when we think it is ready to be deployed in our research panels. We also believe it’s an opportunity perhaps to increase sample size, which is certainly a customer concern, given the increasing desire by our customers to slice and dice in finer and finer ways – the larger sample size would help that. But recruiting sample sizes consistent with the way we’ve done our 70,000 is not going to be cost effective for us or our customers, so we have to find ways to solve that issue – and I think a device-agnostic approach is one of the ways that we’ll do it. I can’t tell you whether it is going to be in 2012 or not, but we’ve certainly put the resources against it that when it’s ready to be deployed it will be,” Creamer said.

RBR-TVBR observation: It seems so simple and obvious to those of us on the outside looking in, but it’s not. Smartphones – at least those available today – are designed for voice communications, texting and certain types of Internet interchanges, not monitoring codes hidden in radio broadcasts. It is sort of fun to imagine a day when it would be possible to measure radio listening 24/7 by every person in every market, but we somehow doubt that anyone would be willing to pay the freight for that service.