Orban: Let Nielsen, not Voltair, Deal with PPM

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Nielsen1Equipment outfit Orban, like a whole lot of interested parties in the Voltair debate, has kept its own counsel on the issue. Until now. It believes that costs may outweigh rewards for those using Voltair.


Essentially, Orban posits that Voltair degrades the audio quality of radio in order to do a better job of picking up a station’s watermark.

In an environment in which radio is facing an ever-increasing amount of competition from other audio platforms, Orban believes this is unwise.

It said that Nielsen has every reason to continue to improve its system, and if flaws exist that need correcting – note the if — Orban believes it will be successful in that effort.

Here is  Orban’s full statement:

In response to many questions from our customers and because the issue of product effectiveness has become a core element in the discussion of radio audience measurement, Orban, a world leader in broadcast audio processing, would like to comment publicly on Voltair, a controversial audio processor manufactured by our competitor 25-Seven, an affiliate of The Telos Alliance. 25-Seven claims that Voltair can increase the number of listeners credited by Nielsen’s Portable People Meter (PPM) measurements.

In this past Tuesday’s conference call regarding their study of Voltair, Nielsen stated that it did not support its use and that it would be releasing enhancements to its encoder that improved the detectability of the watermark without degrading perceived audio quality. However, Nielsen stopped short of requiring that Voltair be removed from subscribers’ audio chains, as Canada’s Numeris ratings agency has done.

Some have argued that Voltair is “just another form of audio processing.” However, we believe that there is an essential and fundamental difference between audio processing (like that done by our Optimods) that increases the opportunity of the Nielsen encoder to insert audibly undetectable watermark tones, and processing that directly manipulates the level of the watermark, potentially breaking Nielsen psychoacoustic masking model and allowing the tones to become audible. Based on their testing, Nielsen concluded that Voltair can degrade perceptual quality.  In an environment where traditional radio is suffering ever-increasing competition from new media, we believe that it is unwise for radio to degrade its audio in an internecine battle whose ultimate winner could be non-broadcast providers.

Because Nielsen is a large, global business that depends on producing credible audience measurements, we expect that it will soon solve any problem (if it actually exists) by making improvements to its encoder. Accordingly, we have decided not to add processing to Optimods that directly manipulates the Nielsen watermark signal because we expect that any such effort would degrade audio quality and would soon be rendered obsolete by Nielsen’s encoder improvements. Moreover, we trust the Media Rating Council to thoroughly evaluate any such improvements, as they have already done for the Nielsen PPM system in its current form.

While it is true Orban’s Optimod processors are compatible with Voltair, we urge caution.


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