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Houston To Host Tests Of New Radio Rating System In July

Arbitron, which is testing electronic meters to replace the diaries, will begin a new round of tests in Houston in July, according to Arbitron officials.

Arbitron spokesman Thom Mocarsky says Arbitron originally tested its "portable people meters" (PPMs) in Philadelphia in 2003.

"We''ve been beating the drum for electronic measurement for a long time," he said.

According to a description of the portable people mover on the AC Nielsen Web site, the PPM resembles a pager. The passive device automatically records the wearer''s exposure to any medium that has inserted an inaudible code into its audio programming using an Arbitron PPM encoder. When a unique, inaudible code is detected, the PPM registers, records and time-stamps the signal. At day''s end, the media history is downloaded by a docking station that simultaneously recharges the PPM unit.

Portability ensures that all exposures register, from conventional broadcast media to in-store vehicles, from entertainment venues to streaming media, from video games to the Internet.

The news of Arbitron''s upcoming Houston test comes as Clear Channel Communications Inc., the largest U.S. radio broadcaster, is seeking proposals for a new audience rating system to replace what it calls the antiquated use of personal diaries manually kept by listeners.

Arbitron Inc., the current provider, will be among those invited to make a proposal, San Antonio-based Clear Channel said Monday in a statement.

Clear Channel Chief Executive John Hogan said the industry needed to make faster progress "with advertisers and media buyers using more credible, accurate information on radio''s value."

Clear Channel is questioning whether participants in Arbitron''s system accurately fill out their diaries, said Lee Westerfield, an analyst with Harris Nesbitt in New York.

Clear Channel and other radio broadcasters need more accurate data as they compete for listeners'' time with other media such as the Internet and digital music devices, he said.

"The root question is the reliability of the diarists," Westerfield said. "Do Arbitron diarists accurately recall what stations they listen to?" Westerfield rates Clear Channel''s shares "outperform" and doesn''t own them.

According to Arbitron, the average amount of time a listener tunes in to traditional radio in the top 100 U.S. markets fell to 19 1/2 hours per week in 2004 from 20 3/4 hours in 2000.
Dan Keeney
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Author: Dan Keeney
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