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Buzz Erupts Over Voltair

Telos says Nielsen asked for statement to be read as session began

The tension and back-and-forth between research giant Nielsen and manufacturer Telos Alliance over the latter’s new Voltair processor was evident during the Sunday Broadcast Engineering Conference session “Processing Smarter, Not Harder, for Today’s Ratings Wars” here at the NAB Show.

Throughout the session, Cornelius Gould, senior algorithm developer for the Telos Alliance, was careful to use the term “watermarking” rather than PPM or Portable People Meter.

Gould began the session in an unusual way: He read a statement that he said Nielsen had asked to be read out loud. Essentially, the statement said that Telos and Nielsen have been talking to see if they can come to a “win-win situation” and that the audience research firm has been testing the Voltair in an effort to seek accreditation from the Media Ratings Council.

There was a lot of attendee laughter over the statement. One engineer was overheard to say, “Who cares what the MRC thinks?”

We reported on tension between the firms in the days leading up to the show, a tension that continued to play out in hallway and booth chatter as the exhibit floor was about to open. At issue, observers say, is the integrity and accuracy of the PPM process, which has huge financial implications for broadcasters; thus this debate is being followed closely, at least by stations that would be able to afford the $15,000 device.

Gould said Telos has found that station personnel place the “watermark encoder” in a variety of locations in an effort to ensure their signal is encoded, such as extra gain riding in front of the watermark encoder or reverb in front of the device.

He described the Voltair as a watermark monitor and processor with minute-by-minute analysis. It indicates how well the watermarked content is being monitored. The manufacturer says more than 300 Voltair products are in use, as we’ve reported. Lots of stations put the Voltair before their audio processing box in the air chain, said Gould. “We think it best to put it before the final processing stages.”

We’ve reported that some broadcasters feel that Nielsen PPM encoders are not sufficiently robust at encoding talk or soft music content, something Nielsen consistently has denied.

The Telos research has the company rethinking some of its presets for audio processors, according to Gould.

A Nielsen representative who attended the session told Radio World he couldn’t comment on the issue. In a memo sent to client stations last week, a copy of which was seen by Radio World, the research company reiterated that it’s testing the unit but recommended that clients hold off on using the Voltair until tests are complete and results validated. Telos Alliance CEO Frank Foti responded with a client memo titled “Nielsen Schmielsen!”

In promotional cards being handed out at the show about the Voltair promoting a Tuesday BEC session about the technology, Telos division 25-Seven Systems stated, “It’s not about flaws in the system. Voltair simply helps you get the listening credit you deserve.”

So How’s Your PPM?