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Arbitron Eyes Mobile Measurement With ‘PPM360’

Field test plans underway

by Leslie Stimson

Arbitron SVP of Engineering & CTO Dr. Taymoor Arshi says the audience research firm intends to test its new “PPM360” this year and hopes to deploy it in the field in 2011.

“Our plan is to drive an in-depth field test. It may take several months,” he said on a client call this week.

The company didn’t say how or where it will test the device, but Arbitron is touting the new Portable People Meter’s ability to transmit data from the panelists wirelessly back to Arbitron, eliminating the need for docking hardware.

Currently, panelists must dock their PPM each night at home and transmit the data back to Arbitron over a land line; the new wireless unit could give the panelist more flexibility — because the new meters don’t need to be docked, and no landline is needed — to transmit data back to Columbia, Md. Arbitron can set the device to send back its data at specific times, possibly right after a big event, to give stations an idea of how they did listening-wise, according to the audience research firm.

The new device also has a small text screen, similar to a cell phone, which Arbitron hopes to use to send messages to panelists, like “Happy Birthday!” to remind them to carry the meter as well as their name and time.

New panelists would get the new meters; units in the field would be replaced through attrition.

Arshi says the battery life of the new units is “at least” as good as existing PPMs, at between 60 to 65 hours of life before needing a charge by either placing it in its cradle or by using a power cord.

Since the new platform is device-neutral, Arshi says, the company hopes eventually to move PPM software from an Arbitron-manufactured device to a mobile device, like smart phones and netbooks. While the company announced more about its PPM of the future, it left a lot of things open. Arshi says the company wants to do more research before it puts a plan in place, but it appears they definitely have a roadmap in mind.

The hope is the smaller, sleeker design will be easier to carry and appeal to youth demos. Radio clients and some PPM panelists have been telling Arbitron for years the PPM meter is boxy-looking and cumbersome to carry. The company has been hesitant to commit to including its measurement technology on a cell phone for a number of reasons, including the variety of devices and the various sensitivity levels of their microphones.

When I last wrote about Arbitron’s efforts to update the PPM design last summer under former President/CEO Michael Skarzynski, it was targeting Q1 of this year for testing its next-gen design. Considering all that’s happened with the company since then, it’s amazing to see those plans still relatively on-track.