Articles of Interest

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hitwise: Consumers Deluge After "Apprentice" Plug

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Hitwise: Consumers Deluge After "Apprentice" Plug
by Wendy Davis, Tuesday, Apr 26, 2005 7:00 AM EST
CONTESTANTS ON THE FOURTH EPISODE of the current "Apprentice" failed their assignments to create an ad for Unilever's Dove Body Wash, but the show still managed to spark a weekly 1,512 percent increase in traffic to the Web site, according to a report released Monday by research company Hitwise.
After the airing of the Feb. 10 episode, Yahoo!'s Apprentice Web site posted a link to accounted for 50 percent of all visits to the site on Feb. 11. Also on Feb. 11, an article about the players' bad luck with creating an ad was responsible for 15 percent of visits to the site. Searches on the term "dove" also increased by 1,062 percent for the week ending Feb. 12, compared to the prior week.
Other marketers to see an Apprentice-related spike in traffic to their Web sites include Pontiac, which had a 180 percent week-over-week jump in visits the week that an April 14 episode featured the Pontiac Solstice, and Domino's Pizza, which saw a 64 percent week-over-week traffic increase in traffic during the week of the March 31 show.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Study: Best Online Ads Draw On Print Techniques

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Study: Best Online Ads Draw On Print Techniques
by Shankar Gupta, Monday, Apr 25, 2005 7:15 AM EST
SOME OF THE BEST WEB ads combine print advertising's use of powerful images that "pop" with animation that quickly draws in viewers and directs their attention toward a message, according to a new study of online ads by CNET Networks, Ignited Minds, and NOP World's Starch Communications.
For the report, expected to be released today, researchers surveyed 8,592 users intercepted at various CNET Network sites, including and Respondents were asked to view several ads on a mock site, and rate them.
Hoping to fill what he described as a "huge void" in the knowledge of what works and doesn't work in terms of online ad creatives, CNET Chief Marketing Officer Joe Gillespie said that the purpose of the study was to explore which type of ad images are effective on the Web, and help guide advertisers away from running annoying ads that drive consumers from sites.

"Bad advertising really hurts our business. It hurts our user experience, and that's never really been the case before: On TV, you can run bad ads, and frankly, nobody knows," Gillespie said. "In our world, if we're running ads that are irrelevant or intrusive, people show up and tell us about it, or just vote with their feet and don't show up at all."

The study found that a good creative includes powerful images and a simple design; ads also should discuss the benefits of the product, and direct the viewer with a visual flow. One such ad discussed in the report was for "Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines," which was nearly two and a half times more likely than average to be chosen by respondents as "one of the best ads." The creative featured scantily clad cartoon vampires in front of a darkly lit cityscape.

Another ad to score highly was an ad for a Nokia video phone, which illustrated the study's conclusions about visual flow--the ad shows a woman throwing a Frisbee to a dog--drawing the user's attention from the top left to the top right--displaying the tagline "your life, with instant replay"--and then to the bottom right, when at the last moment, a kitten jumps into the air and nabs the Frisbee. The ad loops three times before the picture zooms out to shows the video phone and a link to the product specs.

The report revealed that, at least for gaming ads, the best visuals were drawings--"but very realistic ones," as opposed to exaggerated cartoons.

Gillespie hopes to shift the discussion from whether marketers should advertise online to what that advertising should look like. "We think it's time to have a change of emphasis within the Internet community. We've done a lot about why people need to advertise on the Internet, and now it's time to talk about how to do it and how to do it right," he said.

The survey, however, is not necessarily representative of the average Web browser--Gamespot's audience is 97 percent male with an average age of 25.4 years, and on average spent $1000 on video games in 2004.'s audience is 79 percent male, with an average age of 37.5 years, and spent $2,584 on consumer electronics in 2004.

Google To Offer Impression-Based Pricing

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Google To Offer Impression-Based Pricing
by Shankar Gupta, Monday, Apr 25, 2005 7:15 AM EST
IN A MOVE THAT POTENTIALLY cuts down on click fraud, Google today is expected to announce that it will now allow advertisers who participate in AdSense to purchase inventory on a cost-per-thousand impression basis, rather than cost-per-click. The search giant also will announce today that AdSense advertisers may now purchase ad space on the sites of specific publishers, and also serve image ads through AdSense.
The upgrades, currently offered in beta to a select set of Google advertisers, will be rolled out to all Google advertisers within the next few weeks, a Google spokesman said. Advertisers will be able to select specific Web sites on which to place their ads, and then set a cost-per-thousand impression bid, as opposed to paying on a cost-per-click basis. Google already calculates likely cost-per-thousand impression prices by looking at cost-per-click and click-through rates.
The move away from cost-per-click pricing could help Google cut down on click fraud stemming from publishers' generating phony clicks on ads in order to receive a portion of the pay-per-click fee. Many industry observers think click fraud is a significant problem facing search engines--although the scope remains murky. Last November, Google sued a publisher in its AdSense network, Auctions Expert International, for allegedly fraudulently clicking on ads that had been served by Google.

eMarketer analyst David Hallerman said Google's strategy of offering to charge based on cost per thousand impressions might be attractive to some marketers who are anxious about fraudulent clicks. "If some advertisers have been concerned, it can allay their fears," he said.

In other revamps to the program, advertisers now will be able to serve image ads and animated ads. Google also introduced a new ad format for its AdSense publishers--a 160x600 "skyscraper" unit. Google's head of advertising sales strategy, Patrick Keane, said the ads will face a "very strict" editorial review before they can be served via AdSense, and have some restrictions on their formats: No flash ads--animated .gif files only--and ads cannot strobe or loop more than three times. In addition to Google's review, publishers will be able to block individual advertisers if they so choose.

Google also will offer advertisers a "site selection tool," which will hunt for sites that match a particular theme or concept using keyword searches.

Keane said that the changes give advertisers greater flexibility in terms of placing ads, while also giving publishers new creative formats. "We think this is a win for the three constituencies that matter to Google," said Keane. "Google in general is always evolving our advertising network. Our core mission here is a better user experience, and the opportunity for a new creative format is going to be better for our users as well."

David Hallerman added that the upgrades take Google a step closer toward offering branded advertising. "To give the advertiser the ability to choose a publisher--and to charge it on the CPM basis, which could be better for both parties, and moving on to allow graphical elements--are really the first major moves into some sort of branding advertising, which is one of the steps they need to diversify their income stream," he said.

Friday, April 22, 2005


A Look at the Marketing Industry's Coming Disaster
April 13, 2005
By Bob Garfield
Meet George Jetson, circa 2020.
He doesn’t have a personal hovercraft or a food computer, but the rest of the future is more futuristic than he thought. Spacely Sprockets and Cogswell Cogs are out of business. Digits are the new widgets.

SEE Bob Garfield's NPR Radio version of 'Chaos.'
ALSO SEE Reader Letters Responding to This Article
TV is gone
Over-the-air network TV is gone, along with program schedules, affiliate stations and hotel demand in Cannes in the third week of June. George, Jane, Judy and Elroy get their entertainment, and their news, any way they wish: TV, phone, camera, laptop, game console, MP3 player. They get to choose from what the Hollywood big boys have funded and distributed, or what the greater vlogosphere has percolated to their attention.
ABC, NBC and CBS are still major brands, but they surely aren’t generating radio waves. Three initials never uttered, however, are CPM. They’ve long since been supplanted not just by ROI, but VOD, video on demand; P2P, the peer-to-peer Napsterization of content; DRM, the allocation of royalties for digital distribution of content; VOIP, Internet telephony; and RSS, the software that aggregates Web content for easy access by the user.
Branded Entertainment has long since been exposed as a false idol, because consumers got quickly fed up with their shows being contaminated by product placements. Satellite radio is a $4 billion 8-track tape player, stored on a high shelf in the garage, pushed aside by podcasting, which is free. The Upfront Market is an exhibit at the Smithsonian. The Super Bowl survived as the No. 1 pay-per-view event. Survivor didn’t.
The space-age family of the future can still watch CSI, any episode they want, whenever they want, but not on any advertiser’s dime -- unless they choose for their viewing costs to be subsidized. Yet advertisers know everything about them and understand virtually every move they make.
Marketers aren't adversaries
And the Jetsons don’t fight it. In 2020, consumers understand that marketers aren’t adversaries; they’re intimates, sharing info for everybody’s mutual benefit.
Yesiree, by George, it’s a brave and exciting new world that the near future holds, a democratized, consumer-empowered, bottom-up, pull-not-push, lean forward and lean back universe that will improve the quantity and quality of entertainment options, create hitherto unimaginable marketing opportunities and efficiencies and, not incidentally, generate wealth that will make the current $250 billion domestic ad market seem like pin money.
Alas, the future -- near or not -- doesn’t happen till later.
So let’s return to contemporary business reality in the digital revolution, already in progress. Because in the intervening 15 years -- or 20 years, or five -- there are three more initials to consider: SOS.
Because revolutions by their nature are neither seamless nor smooth.
Collapse of old model
Because there is no reason to believe the collapse of the old media model will yield a plug-and-play new one.
On the contrary, there is nothing especially orderly about media’s New World Order. At the moment it is a collection of technologies and ideas and vacant-lot bandwidth, a digital playground for visionaries and nerds.
So what happens when 30 Rock and Black Rock and the other towering edifices of network TV are rubble, and the vacant lot has yet to be developed?
Undeveloped and unprepared. Unprepared to lawfully deliver CSI. Unprepared to absorb $4 billion ad dollars, much less broadcast’s $42 billion. Unprepared legally, technologically and even socially to pick up the pieces of the old world order.
Hold on. Let’s change metaphors. Forget the construction site. Make it a space-age treadmill, cycling too fast for George Jetson to keep his footing. “Jane!” he pleads. “Stop this crazy thing!” But Jane can’t stop it. Nobody can stop it, and nobody can quite hang on.
Ah, yes. The Chaos Scenario.
Downward spiral
The statistics are already getting tiresome, but let’s review a few of the more salient ones, shall we?
According to Nielsen, network TV audience has eroded an average of 2% a year for a decade, although in the same period the U.S. population increased by 30 million.
In the last sweeps period, for the first time, cable commanded a larger audience than broadcast.
The cost of reaching 1,000 households in prime time has jumped from $7.64 in 1994 to $19.85 in 2004.
A 2000 Veronis Suhler Stevenson survey showed that Americans devoted an average of 866 hours to broadcast TV annually and 107 to the Internet, a ratio of 8:1. The projection for 2005 had the TV/Internet ratio at 785 hours to 200, or just under 4:1.
U.S. household broadband penetration has gone from 8% in March 2000 to an estimated 56% in March of this year, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
70% of DVR users skip commercials
Five percent of U.S. homes are equipped with TiVo or other digital video recorders, and not only does time-shifting of favorite programs render network schedules irrelevant, 70% of DVR users skip past TV commercials.
Complicating problems, consolidation in the telecom industry and potential re-regulation of DTC drug advertising threaten billions in network ad revenue, jeopardizing the supply-demand quotient that has propped up network prices for five years. Meanwhile, there is the sword of Damocles called “cost.” The reality-TV fad has enabled networks to fill their ever-more-irrelevant schedules and cast for hits with cheap programming. But how much longer will they last? Westerns and spy shows, superheroes and hospital dramas all once burned bright. Then they burned out.
What’s ominous about that is not the inevitable end of the latest hot genre; it’s the inevitable end of the profitability that has gone with it. And the downward spiral could begin at any moment. In fact, to switch metaphors once again, Shawn Burns, managing director of Wunderman, Paris, looks at the 2005 upfront and sees “the last strand of the rope bridge.”
Mr. Burns, of course, makes a living preaching the wonders of segmentation and the bankruptcy of mass marketing. No wonder he observes with barely camouflaged glee that the efficiency pendulum has swung. “There’s been research,” he says, “that real cost of obtaining 30 seconds of the consumer’s attention is the same in 2005 as it was before the invention of television.”
Fraying rope
Emphasis his. Yes, he has a vested interest in being a doomsayer. He is by no means, however, the only one who sees the rope fraying.
“I still love and enjoy TV and believe it is very effective for advertisers,” says Association of National Advertisers President Bob Liodice. “But we’re killing it. We’re gradually killing it with cost increases, the level of clutter, the quality of the creative that is out there.”
“How can they continue to ask for more and more for fewer and fewer faces?” asks Geoffrey Frost, chief marketing officer of Motorola. “I don’t believe that is sustainable. I believe there will be disruption. There’s already disruption.”
“It’s an inevitable kind of slow collapse of the entire mass media advertising market,” says J.D. Lasica, author of Darknet: Remixing the Future of Entertainment and president of the Social Media Group consultancy. “What we’re seeing is that not only does television have to reinvent itself from the content point of view, it has to reinvent itself as an advertising medium.”
Primitive standards
No mystery as to how, either. As technology increasingly enables fine targeting and interaction between marketer and consumer, the old measurement and deployment standards are primitive almost to the point of absurdity.
“The industry’s key currency is basically reach, frequency, exposure and cost per thousand,” says Rishad Tobaccowala, president of Internet media shop Starcom IP. “I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong but that’s currently the currency. And where the currency ought to be is about outcomes, engagement and effectiveness. Because right now all I’m doing is I’m measuring how cheaply or how expensively I’m buying the pig. I’m not figuring out whether the hot dog tastes good.”
None of this is lost on any sentient being in the media and marketing business. Any lingering denial most likely evaporated when Procter & Gamble Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel -- he of the $5.5 billion marketing budget -- faced agency heads a year ago at the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Media Conference and declared the existing model “broken.” But it’s not just the ad model; it’s the content model, as well. Writer and former venture capitalist Om Malik looks at TiVo and the video-on-demand horizon and is prepared to call in the backhoes for the institution of the prime-time schedule.
“Hasn’t it collapsed already?” asks the author of Broadbandits: Inside the $750 Billion Telecom Heist. “Look at their viewership. Isn’t it going down every day? I mean, we can pick and choose what foods we eat, what car we drive, what clothes we wear and what colognes we use. And some guy sitting in New York decides how I should watch?”
Consumer control
Point taken. As more control has been placed in the hands of the consumer, the consumer has shown every intention of exercising it. Especially in the coveted 18-34 cohort, viewers are fleeing TV and going online, where nobody need have their content dictated to them. But as to Mr. Malik’s rhetorical question -- hasn’t the old model collapsed already --the answer happens to be:
No, it hasn’t.
Network TV spending went up in 2004, by 10.7%. According to Jack Myers Report, last year’s upfront market yielded a 15.4% increase across the four majors, and Mr. Myers projects a 4% increase for the top four in 2005. Yes: increase. There are many possible explanations for the phenomenon. One is habit; gigantic institutions tend not to rapidly adapt. Another is greed: the self-interest of the comfortably situated old guard to preserve the status quo. The third is supply and demand, upward pricing pressure from Viagra, et al, which engorged the marketplace with billions in new spending. The main factor, though, is that network TV audiences remain coveted, because -- shrinking though they are -- they represent the last vestige of mass media and marketing, or, as Motorola’s Mr. Frost calls it, “the last surviving conglomeration of human beings in the living room.”
Precisely, says David Poltrack, executive vice president of research at CBS, who sees incremental revenue opportunities in video-on-demand, but no end to the dominance of broadcast TV in the foreseeable future. “Unless the advertising community finds something to replace television advertising, I think the relative value of the top-quality inventory is always going to be appreciating relative to all the other options,” he says. “Unless someone can come up with a more effective way of introducing a new product than broad-based advertising exposure, I think that business is always going to be there."
Which is why Motorola, whose nifty palm-sized Razr device represents the Jetsons’ media future today, mainly used TV to introduce the gizmo to the world. Because there are still a few programs that catch the imagination of enough human beings in enough living rooms to represent a mass-marketing opportunity.
“I still believe in TV,” Mr. Frost says. “People still watch it, and I love being associated with the right kind of programming that is different, that is appealing, that embodies the kind of innovation we want to stand for as a company.”
'Teetering ecosystem'
On the other hand, he acknowledges that the financing of the “right kind of programming” -- not to mention the overwhelming majority of flops --depends on network revenue streams that could dry up quickly. “The teetering ecosystem behind all this stuff that allows people like us to sort of cherry-pick” for exceptional programs, he says, “may begin to find itself in serious trouble.”
So while the old model hasn’t necessarily collapsed, new-media gurus could be forgiven for seeing the beginning -- or middle -- of the end. Steven Rosenbaum, pioneer of citizen-produced TV and founder of MagnifyMedia, envisions a world of content created by and for individuals over broadband. He snorts at Mr. Poltrack’s defense of the status quo.
“These guys,” he says, “their job is to postpone the future.”
Viacom split
Another skeptic apparently is Sumner Redstone, chairman of CBS parent Viacom. One week after Mr. Poltrack spoke to Ad Age, Mr. Redstone announced his plan to split the company in two, presumably to reduce the drain of CBS and its other broadcast properties on the stock value of the company’s faster-growing media assets.
So for the moment, let’s assume that there is indeed major trouble ahead, that the law of diminishing returns will eventually kick in, that advertisers who’ve paid more and more for less and less will not pay indefinitely for nothing. Marketers will begin to abandon network TV. Ad prices will fall. Profitability will disappear. Program development will suffer, leading to more advertiser defection, and so on in a consuming vortex of ruin. But wait. The network refugees will not flee empty handed. They’ll draw carts bearing steamer trunks stuffed with a quarter trillion dollars.
Then what? In the short run, obviously, more boom times for cable, and then:
Payday for the New World Order.
“A bit of it will go to this new emerging network which will be on the mobile phones,” says Mr. Malik. “The next thing, you will see is the emergence of more Internet-based video advertising. ... There’s going to be a lot of hit-and-miss in this but I think that’s another area you’ll see a lot of progress made. A third channel is ... Internet-enabled cable services. They’re not home runs by any means but they’re definite solid singles and doubles.“
Economics of scale
No dingers? So what? The whole point of new media is small ball. Quit playing for the three-run homer and amass the singles and doubles. Because, says Starcom’s Mr. Tobaccowala, “the key thing is economics of scale is going to disappear. That’s really what the issue is. Our business has been built on the economics of scale. And instead we’re going to go into the economics of re-aggregation. Which is how do you get 10, 20, 30, 40 thousand people instead of taking in 250 million and making them into 12 and 30 million dollar segments. How do you re-aggregate one at a time into the tens of thousands?”
Fragmentation, the bane of network TV and mass marketers everywhere, will become the Holy Grail, the opportunity to reach -- and have a conversation with -- small clusters of consumers who are consuming not what is force-fed them, but exactly what they want. Producers and broadcasters capitalized with billions of dollars will be on approximately equal footing with podcasters and video bloggers capitalized with $399.99 12-months same-as-cash from Best Buy. And just as DailyKos, Instapundit, Wonkette and Wil Wheaton have coalesced large followings in the cacophony of the blogosphere, some of the citizen-video programmers will find not just a voice but an audience.
Wait. Did I say “will find?” Make that “are finding.”
“All of that is happening,” says Drazen Pantic, founding member of videologging Web site, “In the last two or three years, we’ve had a silent revolution of consumer electronics. And broadband is coming. It’s a huge proliferation in the last two years. And so people are going to start broadcasting from home and so on. You will have zillions of people, broadcasting for the audience of 10.”
Except when it’s much bigger than 10. A month ago, a little girl named Dylan Verdi posted a home movie on her father’s Web site.’s Jay Rosen dubbed her the world’s youngest vlogger. The link went viral and, as her father Michael reports on his own videolog, “24 hours later 2,000 people had downloaded her video.” It would have been much more, but he had to shut his site down so he wouldn’t wind up penniless from bandwidth charges.
Web proves it can outdraw TV
The Internet has also demonstrated its ability to outdraw TV. JibJab satirical animations have been downloaded by the millions, for instance. And even TV programming has drawn better online than in its native habitat -- such as when comedian Jon Stewart went on CNN’s Crossfire to assassinate Tucker Carlson live on cable.
“That episode got, what, 400,000 viewers maybe on big old powerful CNN?” says Jeff Jarvis, president of, the online arm of Advance Publications, and author of the media blog “Well that same segment was copied onto the Internet, where it got at least 5 million views. So what’s more powerful, the network CNN owns or the network no one owns? So now suddenly the distribution is exploded. Now on the Internet we can all swim in the same pool as content created by, you know, Universal or Disney. The tools are cheap and easy.”
It is a beautiful thing: the total democratization of media, combined with the total addressability of marketing communications. We, the people, cease to be demographics. We become individuals again.
”Choice is a good thing,” Mr. Jarvis says. “Choice is a proxy for power. The more choice we have the more power we have. The most important invention in the history of media was not the Guttenberg Press, it was the remote control. It gave us control over the consumption of media. Then came the cable box and the VCR and the TiVo and now come the means of creating content. Now I can create a radio show and put it on the Internet. Nyah, nyah, nyah.”
Maybe it’s “nyah, nyah, nyah -- take that Big Media.” Or maybe it’s “tra la, tra la -- what an empowering new world.” Either way, it’s underway.
Straight-to-Internet campaigns
On the advertising side, Google last year generated $3 billion in revenue, about the same as The New York Times Co. No surprise that Vonage, the Internet telephony carrier, is using the Internet to find subscribers, but Procter & Gamble put its money where Jim Stengel’s mouth is by launching Prilosec OTC with 75% of its budget allocated off TV. American Express allocates 80% of its budget off the airwaves. The new Pepsi One campaign will use no TV whatsoever. (Not Capital One. Not Purina One. Pepsi One.) In the new-media laboratory called South Korea, where universal broadband is social policy and its penetration exceeds 80%, the Internet’s share of ad spending is twice that of the U.S. TV, meanwhile, accounts for only 34.4%.
In the wake of BMW films, such diverse U.S. marketers as Amex, Burger King, Lincoln-Mercury and Motorola have created an ever-expanding universe of content/advertising hybrids, Webisodic short films to reach younger prospects online. Mercury’s “The Lucky Ones” is so barren of product and brand messages it is scarcely advertising at all.
Netcasting, of course, also delivers pure programming, too. From the top down was the streaming, on Yahoo, of Kirstie Allie’s new show, Fat Actress. From the bottom up, video logs -- or vlogs -- like Dylan Verdi’s are being generated every day. At, chirpy, irreverent host Amanda Congdon delivers oddball news and snarky observations in a primitive studio (or maybe a one-bedroom). At J.D. Lasica’s alpha Web site, citizen journalists and producers post their own news reports, animations, music videos and whatever else amuses them free of charge.
So that should be the answer: the seamless transition from TV to online, from mass media to micro media, from mass marketing to permission marketing. But not so fast. George Jetson does his vlogging in 2020. Om Malik says he believes the scenario could just as easily take place by 2010. But this is 2005. What if the rope bridge finally snaps, say, next year? Or the next?
It better hadn’t. Because the future isn’t quite ready.
Think: Yugoslavia.
Perhaps you are familiar with it. It used to be a country, ruled by an authoritarian criminal. Then it began to fragment. There went Slovenia, and Croatia next. Then Bosnia. Kosovo made its move, and in the ensuing madness, the regime collapsed. The unshakeable Slobodan Milosevic, who had fomented four wars in the name of Greater Serbia, was overthrown. Democracy! Empowered individuals! A new model!
And, five years later, unemployment is 32%. The average monthly income is $336. The prime minister was assassinated by organized criminals and the country’s most notorious war-crimes suspect is at large.’s Mr. Pantic, formerly of Belgrade’s freedom-fighting radio station B92, is only too familiar with the problem.
“There is no way,” he says, “to make the transition into anything that is different or new or whatever without chaos. Because as with democracies you need five or six newly elected parliaments, you need to replace people who have ties with the old regime.”
Change doesn't happen overnight
Likewise, he says, in the transition from old media to new: “The new paradigm is not going to be established overnight.” There are too many obstacles.
BROADBAND PENETRATION It has catapulted to nearly 60%, but that is still a long way from 100%. In South Korea, where penetration exceeds 80%, online advertising does indeed have twice the share of the U.S. online industry, but it is still less than 5%.
CAPACITY “I don’t think the interactive community has sufficient capacity to handle a seismic change in a transition from network to online,” says the ANA’s Mr. Liodice. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen.” Online-marketing consultant Joseph Jaffe agrees. The author of the forthcoming Life After the 30-Second Spot doesn’t believe there will ever be a dollar-for-dollar transfer of TV money to the Internet. But even 10% of all money now allocated to TV would more than double the total online spending. “You’ve got a handful of publisher properties that may be able to kind of cope initially,” Mr. Jaffe says, “and then be able to at least kind of sustain that increased demand. But for the most part, when the tsunami hits, all hell’s gonna break loose.”
QUALITY Dylan Verdi is a cute little girl, but once the novelty of world’s-youngest-vloggerdom wears off, there is no reason for anyone outside of her immediate family to watch her iMovies. “I mean you can put a lot of bad video clips that you shoot with your camera phone on the Web,” says Mr. Malik, “but how many people want to watch that? If you’re going to create a product for passive consumption it has to be good. I mean look at all the shows that fail. There is very low tolerance for bad television.”
FINANCING “Where,” Mr. Malik asks, “does the money come from to produce the programming of high enough quality to reach the audiences that are obviously going to be smaller than the status quo?” In a video-on-demand universe, networks may send along free samples of new shows to paying customers of existing ones, but absent vast reservoirs of ad revenue, the risk of program development may well be prohibitive. A collapse of the old model could create a Hollywood dustbowl.
LEGISLATION. Peer-to-peer software such as BitTorrent, which permits affordable transfer of large video files, also enables video piracy, and could be legislated or litigated into oblivion by a beleaguered Hollywood desperate to preserve the value of its backlist. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, last year introduced an anti-p2p bill called the Inducing Infringement of Copyright Act of 2004 (Induce Act).
COST. As pricing in the search business has amply demonstrated, any influx of spending into the online space will drive prices upwards, potentially erasing the efficiencies promised by even the most ultra-targeted media buy. The metrics of reach may change radically, but not necessarily those of frequency. As Mr. Tobaccowala puts it, “Millions of people arrive at the Yahoo Homepage. What people don’t realize is that they arrive one at a time.”
SUITABILITY Content will be enormously diverse, agrees Forrest Research research director Chris Charron, but will it constitute a legitimate advertising medium? “A lot of people talk about these social networks and blogs and the blogosphere as being great ways to attract consumers and attract eyeballs and potentially good advertising opportunities, but history shows that is not the case, even recent history. Remember GeoCities? I think they were bought by Yahoo for $3 or $4 billion. Well, it never became a very viable advertising outlet and that’s because it wasn’t a great context for people to place ads. Advertisers weren’t interested in putting it on a personal homepage for Chris Charron for my friends and relatives to see.”
CONTENT DIVIDE Convergence means not only technological and economic disruption; it means social disruption. Cost of broadband and VOD programming will surely exceed $100 per month for each household, and most likely twice that, disenfranchising tens of millions of Americans and changing the dynamics of a shared popular culture. The idea of a vast digital underclass mocks the Internet’s promise of the democratization of media.
Then, of course, there is the biggest monkey wrench in the works: the absurd lack of preparedness for anything other than the most deliberate evolution into a Jetsonian future.
“Even if all the technology were in place and scaled up to size,” says Mr. Tobaccowala, “what isn’t ready really is either clients, agencies, or the media companies. Because in effect what we have to change is the way we do business.”
Oh, preparations are underway. Earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. retained McKinsey & Co. to figure out how to transition to this Internet thing -- which is something like nailing plywood to the windows when the hurricane makes landfall. News Corp. no doubt feels safe enough, because Fox network customers are still lining up to buy, partly because they know how to do that. GRPs are buggywhips that just feel so familiar and reassuring in their hands. No wonder Mr. Stengel is showing up at the 4A’s revival tent preaching salvation: “If we believe that there’s life beyond the 30-second spot,” he demanded, “why are we still dependant on reach, frequency and advertising pre-market scores?”
Yahoo's gambit
So don’t storm the Bastille just yet. Even the revolutionaries aren’t quite organized for the revolution. Among those not quite ready for the end of prime time is Yahoo, which hired ABC programming chief Lloyd Braun to develop whatever content will be when content will come from the likes of Yahoo.
“The key for us,” he told an iMedia Brand Summit in February, “is to be able to come up with that unique, signature, compelling content for the Internet, the way television has been able to do over the years.”
Duh. As to what that might look like, he was a little bit fuzzy.
“What I’m not saying is that we’re just going to be doing television shows on Yahoo, and we’re going to be streaming them, so we’re going to do our version of Lost, or our version of Alias. There’s going to be a big place for video streaming and all of that, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t believe ultimately that the future of Internet content is by doing on the PC, or on mobile devices, what you can already get on your living room television set. We have to really get our arms around what those expectations are. What is the audience looking for when they go on the Internet?”
Yes, that would seem to be the question. But nobody has definitively answered it. That’s why there are hand-wringing Cassandras like Jim Stengel and giddy opportunists like Wunderman’s Shawn Burns.
But what if you are a direct marketer in what promises to be the Golden Age for direct marketing and a historic opportunity knocks and you lack the manpower to answer the door? Under the current circumstances, Mr. Burns says he’d first advise clients to scale up their Web capabilities by a factor of 10. But he concedes that in a Gold Rush economy, he doesn’t know where all the Web designers would come from to do the work. That, of course, is the essence of the Chaos Scenario -- a critical shortage of resources and infrastructure.
It’s almost comical to hear Starcom’s Mr. Tobaccowala talk about the marketing landscape of the very near future.
“Expect to see a lot of event and store-based marketing,” he says. “Expect people to actually go completely away from electronic media to experiential media, if you can call it that. So expect for instance Starbucks, bars, all kinds of things -- bathrooms, OK?”
Bathrooms? Jim Stengel has $5.5 billion burning a hole in his pocket, and he’s supposed to invest it in bathrooms?
“That’s exactly the point,” says John Hayes, chief marketing officer for American Express. “There isn’t the off-the-shelf capacity today. You have to create it. You have to build them. You have to come up with the ideas. To access the talent, you have to basically construct solutions.”
Hence Amex’s Jerry Seinfeld/Superman Webisodes and sponsored concerts Webcast to prospects. If the old model is broken, Mr. Hayes can’t just sit around waiting for somebody else to fix it.
“As in any industry,” he says, “those who are unprepared for change will obviously suffer the consequences.”
That warning has to be pried from Mr. Hayes’ lips, but it is a warning nonetheless -- sort of a reciprocal to another sort of warning. David Poltack, of CBS, may or may not be the spokesman for the status quo, but you can’t miss the “You’ll be sorry” quality to his caution about his notion of the chaos scenario should marketers abandon network TV.
An economic downfall?
“If they do,” he says, “then the entire marketing system that perpetuates this economy will be weakened. And this is not a problem for just the broadcast television networks. This is a major problem for everyone who markets a product to the consumers in this country. Because there has been and there is not currently on the horizon anywhere near as effective a way to market products to the mass consumer marketplace. And if in fact that current system deteriorates to the point that advertisers and marketers abandon it, I don’t see anything that’s going to replace it and the entire marketing infrastructure and the economy is going to be diminished. And that’s a lot bigger problem than just a network television program.”
In other words, what’s good for CBS is good for America.
The other possibility is the opposite: that what’s bad for CBS, and for ABC and NBC and Fox and Conde Nast and the Gannett Co. is very good for America, because what emerges from the ruins will be superior in every way to what it replaced. Better for marketers, better for the economy and especially better for Mr. Jetson, who won’t have a robot maid but very likely will have a million-channel universe.
As Rishad Tobaccowala elegantly concludes, “Those who come to destroy TV are those who are eventually going to save it.”
And the world will rejoice, happily awash in electrons. But before the liberte, fraternite and egalite, beware. This is revolution, and first we will be awash in the blood of the old guard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005



An Ad Campaign as Authentic as It Was Appealing

April 18, 2005


By Jonah Bloom

Time was when an American advertiser wanted to stand out, not blend in. When a brewer’s sales pitch was based on research in the field [cut to shot of a bar], not concocted in some fancy marketing school. What next? Tailgaters with cocktail shakers? This is no way to sell ... the High Life.”

That many of America’s marketers muddy instincts with science, shy away from points of difference and kill

Is your name Sally the salad eater?

Why real men eat bacon grease.

Sometimes a man gets too hungry to clean his hands properly.

A lesson for the would-be Casanova.

great creative is not news. Still, I was somewhat surprised last week when Advertising Age magazine’s Jim Arndorfer, who reported the debut of the “High Life man” in 1998, learned Miller was planning to terminate this gem of a campaign.

The fakery in beer ads
In an era when much advertising feels fake, especially brewers’ ads, which tend to depict too-preened girlymen prancing around predictably beautiful women, the High Life man has been an honest, authentic campaign that regular beer drinkers could relate to. More young men than ever before are deserting beer for fancy liquors and silly spritzers -- on-premise spirit sales grew an estimated 10% last year, while beer sales declined -- and here was a campaign reminding us real men drink beer. It played perfectly into the cultural backlash against metrosexuality, it spoke to those of us who still aspire to our stoic fathers and grandfathers, who built stuff, who knew stuff.

Equally important in an age of growing consumer control and commercial clutter, it was so perfectly told, arch and entertaining -- the copywriting, as poorly mimicked at the top of this column, sometimes smacked of Mark Twain -- it could engage those who screen, either mentally or technologically, most of the ad dreck aimed at them.

A rare feat of advertising
It was the rare example of a campaign that appealed to young hipsters, and even some frat boys, without alienating the more-mature drinker. Rarer still, it combined art and effectiveness. It was initially commissioned to arrest the downward spiral of discounting to which Miller had succumbed and it did that. When backed with some decent media weight, it delivered a tasty uptick in sales, too.

Recent sales figures have been poor, however, which some blame on the creative, others on the lack of, or poor execution of, media buying, and yet others on distribution issues and the tough beer environment.

No campaign should rest on its laurels: Advertising being an art form, there is always the potential to create a better body of work. And, given Miller is working with Wieden & Kennedy to create the new High Life ads, it is just possible that it will come up with something so fabulous that I will wonder why I ever cared for the old High Life guy’s rugged reflections.

Ignore the accepted marketing wisdom
Many suggested Miller has long thought the High Life ads need to “be younger” or “place more emphasis on the beer’s value,” which is a worrying sign that it didn’t understand High Life man, and may be hankering after some prancing soda-pop starlets. Miller would not be alone in believing that ads have to show the audience that you want to reach. This almost seems to have slipped into the category of accepted marketing wisdom, despite the fact it’s claptrap. Most hipster influencers will shun your brand like a Celine Dion box set if they see it hawked on TV by their supposed peers.

Nostalgia has a powerful effect on the young as well as old. Just ask a 25-year-old about the candy they used to buy when they were kids, or the TV shows they watched, or the first time their dad gave them a beer. At a time when the real enemies of Anheuser-Busch and Miller are the spirits companies, a campaign that reconnects beer to the very essence of manhood seems a brilliant strategy.

The High Life man deserves a promotion, not retirement.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Less Proves Higher CPMs For Clear Channel, But Fewer Radio Ad Dollars

MediaPost Publications Home of MediaDailyNews, MEDIA and OMMA Magazines
LESS APPARENTLY DOES MEAN MORE in radio advertising -- more CPMs. Clear Channel Communications, which embarked on a controversial plan to reduce the amount of commercial time on its radio stations, boosted the price of its ad time during the first quarter, its top executive confirmed in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. "Advertisers are paying more for 60-second spots with us than they did last year, and more than they did the previous month," John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio, the nation's largest radio broadcaster told the newswire service, adding that radio advertisers are also relying less on the medium's traditional 60-second ad units and more on 30-second spots.

That was the goal of an ambitious plan launched by Clear Channel this year that it claimed would be a win for both its listeners and its advertisers.

"We're scaling back... less commercials, less station promos and even shorter breaks," the company proclaimed in promos touting the new format, which began in January. The company said the move was in direct response to feedback from radio listeners, but also is a tacit acknowledgement of outside pressures - everything from satellite radio services to Internet podcasts - that are making terrestrial broadcast radio sound cluttered by comparison.

"Clutter is a major issue in our industry and our decision to limit the amount of commercial time and length of breaks, while reducing promotional interruptions, will benefit listeners, advertisers and the industry as a whole," Hogan said when he announced the plan last summer. He noted that "specific ceilings" would be applied to every Clear Channel station and would vary by format and daypart.

While media buyers applauded the plan to reduce the overall clutter of Clear Channel's stations, some balked that the real strategy was to get advertisers to pay more for less by converting the medium's traditional 60-second units into :30s.

While Hogan says advertisers are beginning to wean off of radio :60s, it's unclear whether the broadcaster has been able to close the price gap between the two commercial formats.

On Thursday, Hogan confirmed that the strategy has slowed overall advertising revenues in the short term, and has driven some advertisers to competing radio stations.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Mismeasure of TV

The New York Times
April 10, 2005
Our Ratings, Ourselves

The Mismeasure of TV
One of the great contradictions of modern American life is that almost everyone watches television while almost no one agrees anymore about what it really means to watch television. True, we know that as spring gets under way, new episodes of ''Desperate Housewives'' and ''C.S.I.'' and ''American Idol'' will battle for prime-time supremacy in the overnight Nielsen ratings. We also know that local broadcast stations around the country will begin scheming -- just as they do every April -- to win the May sweeps, the tense weeks when rival stations pursue a fierce one-upmanship of flamboyance and hype and the Nielsen-measured audience sizes determine future advertising rates. But when it comes to figuring out how many of us are watching these shows, and whether we're paying attention while we're watching and even whether we're actually noticing the advertisements among the shows we may or may not be watching -- well, this is where things get tricky.
For the past decade or so, watching television in America has been defined by the families recruited by Nielsen Media Research who have agreed to have an electronic meter attached to their televisions or to record in a diary what shows they watch. This setup may not last much longer. Just as programmers and advertisers are clamoring for a better understanding of the television audience, a wave of new consumer products has made it increasingly difficult to satisfy them. One day this January I sat in a Greenwich Village workroom with Bob Luff, the chief technology officer at Nielsen, as he pulled out gadget after gadget to show me what he's up against. Luff seemed to view the modern American home as a digital zoo where the lion is about to lie down with the lamb: radio is going on the Web, TV is going on cellphones, the Web is going on TV and everything, it seems, is moving to video-on-demand (V.O.D.) and (quite possibly) the iPod and the PlayStation Portable. ''Television and media,'' Luff said over the noise of five sets tuned to five different channels, ''will change more in the next 3 or 5 years than it's changed in the past 50.''
It is Luff's job to think this way, of course -- to observe Americans' embrace of new technologies and respond with new ways for Nielsen to measure that. It is also the job of a Maryland company called Arbitron, which has counted radio listeners -- and, at various times, television viewers -- since the late 1940's. For the past few months, Arbitron has been taking a distinctly unorthodox approach to measuring audiences. Currently the company is recruiting a couple of thousand volunteers in Houston and asking these randomly chosen men, women and children to wear a black plastic box that looks like a pager, three inches by two inches by one-half inch, whose circuitry is roughly as complex as that of a cellphone. In the radio and television industry, this little box is known as the portable people meter, or the P.P.M. In both a business and a cultural sense, it also seems to be the equivalent of a large explosive.
The Houston volunteers will clip the their belts, or to any other article of clothing, and wear it all their waking hours. Before going to bed, the volunteers will be expected to dock the P.P.M. in a cradle so that overnight it can automatically send its data to a computer center in Maryland, where statisticians can download and review the information. There are still kinks to work out, but ideally the P.P.M. will tell Arbitron exactly what kind -- and exactly how much -- television and radio programming a person was exposed to during the day. Eventually the P.P.M. may also tell the technicians at Arbitron a host of other things too, like whether a P.P.M.-wearer heard any Web streaming, or supermarket Muzak, or any electronic media with audible sound that someone might encounter on a typical day.
It may not be immediately obvious why this little gadget should matter much to anyone beyond East and West Coast media elites. But one indisputable fact about media measurement is that if you change how you count, funny things happen. Or maybe not so funny. Nielsen's introduction of new electronic television meters in the New York area last winter, for instance, prompted a torrent of criticism from Fox Television, which saw the local ratings (and potential revenue) of several of its programs suddenly plummet. But this may prove a modest dust-up compared with what comes next, if devices like the P.P.M. or data from millions of set-top digital cable boxes reveal that what Americans are seeing and hearing do not correspond to what the big measurement companies have long been claiming.
Finding out whether ''C.S.I.'' beats ''Desperate Housewives'' is just the beginning. Change the way you count, for instance, and you can change where the advertising dollars go, which in turn determines what shows are made and what shows then are renewed. Change the way you count, and potentially you change the comparative value of entire genres (news versus sports, dramas versus comedies) as well as entire demographic segments (young versus old, men versus women, Hispanic versus black). Change the way you count, and you might revalue the worth of sitcom stars, news anchors and -- when a single ratings point can mean millions of dollars -- the revenue of local affiliates and networks alike. Counting differently can even alter the economics of entire industries, should advertisers (thanks to the P.P.M.) discover that radio or the Web is a better way to get people to know their brand or buy their products or even vote for their political candidates. Change the way you measure America's culture consumption, in other words, and you change America's culture business. And maybe even the culture itself.

The Code for All Media
Among the bedrock beliefs of the measurement business is the notion that a ''passive'' measurement device is more accurate than an ''active'' one. This is another way of saying that the more that volunteers have to do to actively chronicle their program choices, like pushing a button or writing something down, the less exact the information about the audience will be. For years, Arbitron's radio ratings and Nielsen's television ratings have depended on selectively recruited Americans who usually get between $2 and $15 to fill out weekly paper diaries in hundreds of local media markets around the country. The diaries are a highly active form of measurement, subject both to frequent errors of recollection (you tend to forget that you stopped on the Weather Channel for four minutes while flipping to another program) and to the human tendency to champion personal or habitual favorites (you might write down ''The Daily Show'' even if you were out of town that night). A diary can measure only what a person says he watched or heard. It can never reliably measure what everyone actually watched or heard.
The distinction matters. It's why, in the late 1980's, Nielsen first began to switch to a new electronic meter, the People Meter, which automatically notes what channel a television set is tuned to and can also register who watches, as long as each viewer presses a log-in button. This gave Nielsen (and, in turn, television programmers and advertisers) a wealth of new information. Thanks to the company's recruitment techniques, which included interviews and surveys of every prospective household, Nielsen could match the shows each viewer watched to his or her age, income and ethnicity.
In those days, Nielsen's only competitor in the television ratings business was Arbitron, which had already carved out a lucrative niche measuring radio audiences but was struggling to compete with Nielsen in local TV markets. In fact, by the early 1990's, Arbitron, which also built electronic meters to monitor television sets, was worried that the business was becoming prohibitively expensive. So in early 1992, Arbitron's top executives called in their chief engineer, Ron Kolessar, and asked him to come up with an answer to this problem. Could Kolessar find a less expensive way to measure television and radio audiences at the same time? Also, could he make the measurements better too?
Kolessar gathered his staff in an office in the summer of 1992 to toss around ideas and to periodically scribble the good ones down on a white board. In the beginning, of course, the engineers in the room were simply trying to satisfy their bosses -- to find a cheaper and more efficient way to evaluate Americans' TV and radio habits. The engineers figured they might, if they were lucky, come up with a way to make Arbitron competitive with Nielsen again. But their thinking soon changed. As they worked on their project, Kolessar and his team could see that they were trying to understand, and perhaps to shape, the future of media and advertising in America. When Kolessar finally made a presentation to Arbitron's executives, he suggested that the company go even further in the direction of passive metering than Nielsen's People Meter. No button-pushing, in other words. Until then, companies had been trying to collect data about American television viewers by monitoring the set. ''We need to monitor the person,'' Kolessar declared. Not long after, Arbitron pulled out of the television ratings business altogether.
One bitter, cold morning in January, Kolessar met me at the Arbitron offices, a four-story glass-paneled building in an undistinguished office park in Columbia, Md., not far from Baltimore Washington International Airport. Kolessar's lab is a small suite of rooms overflowing with computer parts and sound meters; he explained to me that it had taken him far longer and more money than he expected -- 13 years and $80 million and counting -- to actually transform the idea for the P.P.M. into a physical thing. In part that's because the technology behind the P.P.M. has proved formidably difficult. In the course of his brainstorming in the early 1990's, Kolessar and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the best way to capture an individual's media exposure was to bury a unique, repeating, inaudible digital code in the audio tracks of every radio or television channel in the country; the P.P.M. would recognize that code.
So Kolessar began to work on psychoacoustic masking, which places a sinal just beneath the frequency of whatever is being transmitted. As Kolessar and his team worked through years of frustration, they discovered that the masked code's frequency could not be too low (where it would run into technical problems) or too high (where it would bother dogs and cats). Nor could it even modestly compromise the audio quality of a show or a song. ''We used 'Achy Breaky Heart' for a while for our tests, but then I just couldn't take it anymore,'' Kolessar said. So he switched to ''Don't Give Up,'' the Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush duet from Gabriel's album ''So.'' The song is an intricate work of sonic architecture (of some 26 separate tracks, according to Kolessar), which made it a challenge for the engineers. Kolessar led me into Arbitron's sound studio to listen to what his team came up with after a decade. He cranked a recording of the Gabriel song through a pair of $20,000 speakers and switched back and forth between coded and uncoded versions. ''You can't tell the difference,'' he said, more as a statement than a question. I agreed.
Arbitron has begun to ask radio and television stations around the country to run their broadcasts through a patented Arbitron encoding device; at the moment, almost all of the radio and television stations that a listener can tune into in the Houston metro area -- including over-the-air, cable and satellite TV (though not satellite radio) -- are coded for the P.P.M. trial. The stations are not being paid for this; instead, Arbitron has convinced them, through literal door-to-door salesmanship, that encoded broadcasts will enable Arbitron to measure their audiences better and thereby ultimately boost their advertising sales.
To Steve Morris, the C.E.O. of Arbitron, encoding is as much a matter of logic as economics. In Morris's view, code is now the only plausible way to follow a piece of content to see if -- and how -- it reaches an individual. ''Media is following you not just when you consciously turn on your satellite radio in your car, or when you consciously flip open your cellphone and get some cable channel delivered to it,'' Morris told me. ''It's also coming at you when you walk through Grand Central station. It's on the floor and on the walls. It's coming at you at the malls, where the L.E.D. screens are all around you along with the piped-in music. Advertising is becoming incredibly ubiquitous, so you need measurement that is equally ubiquitous.'' Can everything with sound be coded, I asked? ''Yes,'' Morris said. Will everything with sound be coded? ''Yes,'' he said.
In all likelihood, the Houston trial will show that people are exposed to far more media and advertising than they think, or remember. Some P.P.M. tests in Philadelphia have already indicated that wearers tune into twice as many radio stations on a typical day as they ever note in their diaries. For better or worse, the P.P.M. changes the definition of ''media consumer.'' On the downside, there is of course the question of whether people are actually listening to the stations or watching the television channels registered by their P.P.M.'s; Arbitron's P.P.M. will never be able to measure how intently a viewer concentrated on a televised Gap ad (but neither does Nielsen's People Meter). On the upside, the P.P.M. could reasonably establish that a person left the room during a commercial break, because the coded signal is interrupted when the device is out of earshot.
More significant, the P.P.M. expands the boundaries of media consumption. That's because it passively registers media both inside and outside of the home -- what P.P.M. volunteers are exposed to in bars, airports, health clubs and hotel rooms. This is something that has never been done, according to David Poltrack, the head of research at CBS. ''Ten percent of viewing is now out of the home,'' Poltrack said. ''And for teenagers and young adults it's often as high as 20 percent.'' For a financial news station like CNBC, which probably has a large bloc of unmeasured viewers watching at work during the day, the P.P.M. could produce a significant boost. ''Nielsen does not measure offices,'' Alan Wurtzel, the head of research at NBC Universal, told me. ''Nor do they measure vacation homes. They don't measure hotels. They don't measure hospitals.''
And Arbitron plans for the P.P.M. to do more than establish new standards of measuring television and radio audiences. In Houston, for instance, the P.P.M. will register advertisements that run in theaters before movies; if Arbitron can persuade the entertainment industry to go along, the P.P.M. could also detect the use of everything from DVD's to video games to MP3 music files. (Arbitron has a special P.P.M. attachment to track headphone radio and iPods, though iTunes music and podcasts are not yet encoded.) In addition, Kolessar told me, his bosses recently asked him to experiment with adding Global Positioning System capability to the P.P.M. so that the company could determine when a person drives by a particular billboard or walks by a particular superstore on a given day. And he has been tinkering with radio frequency identification (RFID) so that a P.P.M. could track a reader's interaction with magazines and newspapers. A tiny chip embedded in a page like this one, perhaps the size of a pencil dot, would tell a P.P.M. that a reader picked up or opened the Times magazine. It might even register, with other P.P.M.'s, whether a majority of readers continued to the end of this article or stopped right here. ''We've got all sorts of things we're playing with in preparation for a world that is probably a couple years away,'' Kolessar said. ''But it's going to happen. And it's going to happen because the advertisers are pushing this. It's them. They want to know more.''

The Counting Business
One of the most striking aspects of the P.P.M. has nothing to do with the technology: it's the fact that Arbitron and Nielsen are doing business together. If the P.P.M. proves to be good at quantifying the radio and television audiences in Houston this summer, Nielsen and Arbitron together could introduce the P.P.M. into various local markets across the country. In the view of the two former archrivals, Arbitron brings the P.P.M.'s patented technology to the table, and Nielsen brings its knowledge of the television industry and its expertise in recruitment. A few years ago, Steve Morris, Arbitron's C.E.O., toyed with the idea of using the P.P.M. to challenge Nielsen, but he ultimately decided against it. ''We looked at this and saw that there's a long history of people taking runs at the incumbent,'' Morris told me. ''But there's no halfway here. If we were to go after Nielsen, it would be war, and at the end of the day there would be one person standing. And believe me, there are skeletons littering the trail.''
How the P.P.M. fits into Nielsen's present television ratings system, or how it could change the way Nielsen conducts its business, is a hot topic of speculation in the industry. Over the past decade, Nielsen has maintained its monopoly even as the company itself has changed hands -- evolving from the homespun creation of Arthur C. Nielsen and his son, Arthur Jr., to a hugely profitable business that brings in revenues of close to $700 million a year for its parent company, the Dutch media conglomerate VNU. Nielsen clients -- networks and independent stations, and also a number of advertising agencies and advertisers -- pay the company substantial amounts for a steady stream of viewer data. NBC Universal and Viacom, for instance, probably each pay Nielsen around $50 million a year. In return for a long-term contract, Nielsen will customize viewer data to suit the needs of any client. What a media-buying agency, for example, wants to know about a particular program's audience may differ from what a station executive wants to know; the information national networks need isn't the same as what local stations need (to attract hometown advertising, for example).
In fact, while Nielsen ratings have a knack for anointing the winners and losers in our pop culture -- from Ruben and Clay on ''American Idol'' all the way back to Johnny Carson and Lucille Ball -- Nielsen's role as the arbiter of our cultural democracy happens to be a sideshow. The function of the company is to put a value on time itself, in terms of the commercials that use it. Nielsen's ratings are the single standard, the so-called currency, that allows its clients to characterize a program's audience (its size, age, sex and economic status) and then set a price. Some $60 billion worth of television advertising looks to Nielsen for guidance each year. The company's ratings are really just another way for people in the TV business to talk about money.
According to Nielsen, on a typical weeknight, somewhere between 103 million and 108 million Americans watch prime-time television. The average American household now sees 8 hours 1 minute of TV every day and has access to more than a hundred channels and several different sets -- often tuned to different channels in different rooms. Industry types call this phenomenon audience fragmentation. The days of a family gathering together on the couch are dying out for good. We're in pieces. Or as Steve Morris, the Arbitron C.E.O., put it more gently, ''People are dividing.'' Every age group, every cultural group and every demographic group, Morris added, is in the process of getting media packaged expressly for its members.
In the next few years, this ''personalization'' will become only more and more pronounced. The television industry is in the process of updating its means of distribution by converting to digital signals, a changeover that presents new opportunities for networks to create multiple new lineups and channels (for example ABC, ABC HD, ABC Family) to serve all the new fragments. Within a few years, you should be able to, if you can't already, satisfy any impulse, passion or modest enthusiasm through your television. Meanwhile, that typical Nielsen family that now has a hundred channels to choose from may soon have many hundreds more.
Whatever this transition means for TV viewers, it has different implications for advertisers. In recent months, in fact, a host of executives from big corporations, most notably Jim Stengel of Procter & Gamble, have begun publicly demanding that measurement companies like Nielsen and Arbitron provide better information about audiences. These advertisers don't mind talking to smaller groups of Americans. In fact, companies like fragments. The more specific an audience, the more confident they can be of reaching out to and persuading its constituents. Specifying like this makes it easier to justify advertising expenditures. ''What we're looking for is not just ratings but the receptivity to the message,'' Beth Uyenco, the U.S. director of strategic research at OMD, one of the big media-buying agencies, said. To Uyenco, HGTV is an ideal place for home products, for instance, just as ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy'' on Bravo offers a good place for grooming products. ''Fragmentation can be a challenge,'' Uyenco added, ''but if you have a very niche brand, it can be a blessing.''
Yet to receive that blessing, an advertiser has to understand any fragment of television viewers -- understand it, that is, in all its mind-numbing, granular detail. Much like a poll that measures the popularity of presidential candidates, Nielsen currently uses representative samples of Americans (all ages, incomes, races, regions) to stand in for the enormous audience that watches television each night; it is almost certainly among the most sophisticated companies in the world at figuring out whom to contact for a reliable sample and getting those people to participate. For the moment, many Nielsen families in these samples use the company's set-top People Meter, which registers viewership regardless of whether a family has cable, satellite or rabbit ears on their television sets.
Nielsen has endured plenty of criticism during the past year over whether it works hard enough to include minorities among its People Meter families -- charges that are almost certainly unfair. The more legitimate concern is whether Nielsen's samples can measure a country, and a medium, that has become so fragmented. Nielsen's nightly group of national viewers is about 8,000 households; in about a year that will expand to about 10,000 households. In the local New York market, Nielsen's nightly viewers number about 800 households. Getting an accurate reading from these Nielsen families on a dominant program like the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards isn't so hard. It's those programs or channels where a slice, or a sliver, of Americans are tuning in. In other words, how do you draw meaningful conclusions if only a few Nielsen households watched Court TV or the Food Network or Telemundo late one night? What percentage were single African-American women older than 49? What percentage were young white men? What percentage were Hispanic teenage girls? The marketers -- the people who want to make sure they're reaching the right fragment with the right ad -- would love to know. But it's been getting hard to say. And as the number of channels grows, and the number of sets in every home increases, and the number of devices that can carry television signals multiplies, it's going to get even harder.

Where the Data Go
Late last year, the Nielsen company moved into a dazzling corporate campus 20 minutes northwest of Tampa in Oldsmar, Fla., a place that seems less like a town than a hasty arrangement of strip malls, office parks and juvenile palm trees set between the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack at one end of town and a dense patch of swampland on the other. The Nielsen Media Research Global Technology and Information Center, as it's called, is an impressive pile of glass next to the swamp. Nielsen spent $123 million in Oldsmar on three interconnected buildings, which is far less interesting than the way they constructed them: with redundant electrical circuitry, high security barriers and warning bells on top of warning bells. The point was to create a fortress so that no computer virus or sparking wire would compromise its ratings system. Ditto for any possible competitor. ''This particular part of the campus is capable of withstanding winds of over 150 miles per hour,'' Alan Donnelly, who runs day-to-day operations in the main data building, told me in February as we walked through the computer room. ''It's built to sustain a Category 5 hurricane.'' There were also fuel tanks and backup generators on the ground floor, Donnelly pointed out, that could power things for several days just in case. Donnelly took me through a security door and into the main control center.
It is a strange, and somewhat disorienting experience, to observe the Nielsen process at work -- to watch the people who watch America watching television. Nielsen still measures a large number of regional markets with written diaries. But the data from the 8,000-home national People Meter panel are tabulated in the Oldsmar control center, where a half-dozen employees face a 22-foot-wide screen that can tune in to any channel in the country at any time. The process is similar to what will happen soon with the P.P.M. in Houston, except the scale (and the implications) will be exponentially larger. At night, while Nielsen families around the country sleep, the data from the People Meters on their televisions are sent here automatically, over telephone lines, beginning at about 3 a.m. The technicians in Oldsmar collect the details about the shows the Nielsen families watched. They check it; they slice and dice it -- by demographics and geography and any criteria their clients would like. By late morning, they publish their list of the top shows for television executives in New York and L.A.
Fragmentation isn't Nielsen's only headache in all this. As its recent battles with Fox in New York show, putting new technology into old markets stirs up an industry that abhors any kind of volatility. ''We're being simultaneously told to speed up the change to electronic measurement, and to slow down,'' Susan Whiting, Nielsen's C.E.O., told me. There's certainly some truth to this. And yet in the course of my interviewing nearly a dozen advertising and television executives, almost all of them faulted Nielsen for languor rather than aggression. Virtually every network and cable company I spoke with voiced frustration with Nielsen's tardiness in measuring ''time-shifting'' -- which happens when viewers rely on video-on-demand or TiVo-like devices (also known as digital video recorders, or DVR's) to ''shift'' the times at which they watch their chosen programs. If a Nielsen family watches ''Dateline'' from its DVR three days after its broadcast, in other words, those viewers aren't counted, and NBC gets no credit. Which may seem like a minor thing, except 6.5 million Americans already have these devices, according to Forrester Research, and 17 million might have them by the end of next year. Nielsen has announced that it intends to track time-shifting starting next January, supplementing the People Meter with the Active/Passive Meter, which uses sound encoding much like what Arbitron uses for the P.P.M. (Each company has patented its own version.) Next year, prime-time shows will receive three national scores: ''Dateline,'' say, would get a rating for viewers who watch it during its normal time slot, a second rating that includes viewers who see it later the same evening and a third rating of total viewers over the course of a week.
Nielsen is no slouch when it comes to technology. Its problem seems to come from implementing that technology in timely fashion. One advertising-side media executive, asking that I not name the firm because it frequently negotiates with Nielsen, put it this way: ''They're very good at stifling innovation and managing the environment. They slow the pace of change down. And they're very good at making sure that their monopoly will continue.'' In this regard, some players in the television industry fear that Nielsen has agreed to support the P.P.M. only because it allows the company to slow down or squelch its acceptance. Susan Whiting told me that the issues are wholly technical, and that she won't be able to know whether Nielsen can proceed with a joint venture with Arbitron until the P.P.M.'s Houston test shows results that Nielsen feels comfortable with.
In the meantime, Nielsen continues to pursue other alternatives. One morning in Oldsmar, Bob Luff, the company's chief technology officer, led me through a tour of a different possible future for measurement, one with voice-recognition and face-recognition meters that the company is testing along with other devices. Luff then took me into his engineering department, a matrix of cubicles where a small army of Nielsen technicians take apart the newest televisions on the market, so that the company understands the circuitry well enough to attach a People Meter in the event that a prospective Nielsen family has a new model in its house. The Nielsen offices in Florida actually have storerooms full of brand new TV's and DVR's and video-game consoles for no other purpose than research and deconstruction. Luff and I paused by a desk where one of his engineers had pulled the bowels out of a huge new flat-screen television. ''He'll reverse-engineer this,'' Luff explained to me, ''and he'll figure out where we can connect. He might also take close-up digital photographs for the field technician to use on his laptop.'' Nielsen, Luff added, has blueprints and plans of some 10,000 televisions on file.
You have to wonder if this is a losing battle -- whether keeping up with the technology curve has perhaps left Nielsen with little time or inclination to get ahead of it. There is, moreover, an aroma of sweaty exertion to the Nielsen process. And that comes not just from the ripping apart of new televisions. The company also puts prodigious efforts, and tens of millions of dollars a year, into maintaining its representative sample of Americans. Hundreds of field reps knock on hundreds of doors every month to invite them into the Nielsen sample. Then those same reps monitor the volunteer households, which entails maintaining intimate, day-to-day oversight, often for several years, to ensure each Nielsen family complies with its rules and pushes the correct buttons on the People Meters.
Whether this can continue depends, in large part, on economics. The more America fragments, the bigger the sample you need to represent the country. And the bigger the sample you need to represent America, the harder and more expensive it is to maintain in a door-to-door, labor-intensive manner like this. ''I wouldn't predict that Nielsen is going out of business,'' said Richard Fielding, the head of research at Starcom Media Worldwide, one of the big media buying agencies. ''But they are at a crossroads. And it's almost as if their business model is evaporating overnight.''

You Are What Your Cable Box Says You Are
At some moments, trying to discern the business of companies like Nielsen and Arbitron gives way to the question of whether America is becoming weightless, an agglomeration of data about who we are and how we behave that seems to have more substance (and certainly more financial value) than our actual selves. It was hard to avoid this thought early one evening last winter as I drove over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay toward Bradenton, about 60 miles south of Nielsen's Global Technology Center, on my way to ErinMedia. Several years ago, a few computer geeks and new-economy types started this company in pursuit of something no measurement company has yet pulled off: tapping into cable set-top data to get a complete picture -- not a sample -- of what viewers in a particular city or region are tuned in to at any second of any day.
Though known to media planners and many broadcast and cable executives, ErinMedia does not seek attention; in a business sense, it's pretty much off the grid. When I turned into its nearly vacant parking lot, fronting a mostly empty office building set amid empty fields and dark stretches of forest along Route 301, the company seemed to exist not only on the edge of Bradenton, but on the very edge of reality. ErinMedia has no People Meters, no P.P.M.'s, no gadgets, no embedded codes. A few dozen employees, a couple of computer servers and a number of patents pending in Washington, that's all. The business is less a conventional company than a pure expression of mathematics.
Digital cable set-top boxes are already connected to sets in the homes of 25 million Americans (a number expected to nearly double by 2010). When you get your television signal through one, you receive programs, or ''downstream'' data, from your cable company. But the cable companies can also get a transmission back from you; they can find out what you watch. And they can also find out when you watch it. Federal privacy laws and various technological challenges (especially with older, analog set-top boxes) have made the cable companies reluctant to use that information so far. But some third parties have tried to come in and calculate, through some very complicated software applications, whether viewer information can be tabulated while still protecting privacy. ''We figured out how to get the data and how to figure it out demographically without knowing who you are,'' Frank Foster, the president of ErinMedia, said as we sat down in a conference room in the company's office building. Foster maintained that his company can offer its clients -- cable operators, television stations and media buyers -- a detailed breakdown of a regional television audience at any given time. If a city's digital cable company allows ErinMedia access to its data, in other words, ErinMedia could deconstruct the audience for any show, Foster said. He could tell a producer that 44,312 sets were tuned to the first 4 minutes 7 seconds of the local news. Or that 11,812 cable households surfed channels during the commercial break in the N.C.A.A. semifinals. He could track the viewers as they tuned in and out and precisely where they came from and where they turned to. A few weeks after 9/11, ErinMedia tested some data from Comcast to see what its television audience did that day and in the weeks afterward, compared with viewing patterns in the weeks before. The company charted precisely how many households tuned in and when. It found out what caught viewers' eyes.
Foster was sitting across the table from Frank Maggio, the company chairman. When Maggio chimed in, he pointed out that a second-by-second census of actual viewers might even do more than what Foster described. It could tell the producer of a local news show that the audience preferred the sportscaster on a competing channel -- and ErinMedia could prove it by showing how many viewers switched channels at the relevant time. Perhaps most important, ErinMedia could use set-top data to register small numbers. The chief of a future microchannel, in other words, could tell advertisers exactly who is in its tiny but enthusiastic audience. If only 300 households tuned in out of 300,000, they would still be counted. And if an advertiser suddenly wanted to show an ad for Wolf stoves or Volkswagen Passats specifically tailored to those 300 homes (and be assured, that day is coming soon), it would be able to. ErinMedia, both men said, could give a programmer or cable company a detailed picture of an audience within 24 hours.
Maggio, a young entrepreneur, says he firmly believes that Nielsen is the relic of a simpler time, an era of three networks and a less diverse America. He ascribes no bad intentions to the company. But he relishes the potential for an outfit like ErinMedia to destroy it. ''I believe I could go into Nielsen and quadruple their profits,'' he told me. ''It's so much more efficient to use our technology.'' Then Maggio said he was willing to keep his company going as long as necessary with millions of dollars from his real-estate projects. ''We can pick up where Nielsen leaves off, but we can do more than that,'' he said -- the implication being that ErinMedia could not only give cable operators, stations and advertisers detailed insights into their audience, but even, under the right circumstances, also help establish a new ratings currency in place of Nielsen's old one. To many people in the industry, this would seem preposterous. But Maggio had a counter: ''I'm kind of brash,'' he said. After a short pause, he shrugged. ''Actually, I'm a maverick.''
To be sure, Nielsen has already seen the light on set-top data, even as it publicly defends the aging technology of its People Meters and the methodology of its samples. In fact, both Nielsen and Nielsen's biggest global competitor, a European company called TNS, have been in discussions for some time with various U.S. cable operators about using set-top information. It may eventually come down to what the cable operators decide is in their best interests. They're the ones with the data -- our data -- which is tantamount to saying that they're the ones sitting over the diamond mine. ''It's a fairly simple process to take set-top boxes and capture anonymous viewing information,'' Steve Burke, the chief operating officer of Comcast, the country's largest cable system, told me. ''But it's not what we do. If you're a cable company, you don't get up in the morning and think: how can I create a competitor to Nielsen? You get up and think: we'd like to get V.O.D.-rated and grow our business and wonder when Nielsen is going to hurry up and get off the dime.'' Nevertheless, Burke admitted, it wouldn't take much at this point for those on the cable side to force a drastic change. ''The obvious consortium would be you get some cable companies, a satellite company and a couple big advertisers together to start a Nielsen competitor,'' Burke mused. I asked him if they were near to doing that yet. He let out a frustrated laugh. ''We're getting closer,'' he replied.
Whether a cable consortium ends up choosing a partner like ErinMedia, or whether cable companies get together and then choose an established partner like Nielsen, probably matters less than the net effect of changing the way viewers get counted. When the music industry's charts switched from surveys to actual sales data in 1991, they shook up longstanding assumptions (country and rap were more popular than realized, for example). And to be sure, a change like that can't happen overnight: any new way of counting, put suddenly into effect, would wreak havoc on TV-industry finances by elevating the value of air time on some shows and deflating others, thus forcing stations and networks to offer advertisers ''make good'' ads when audience sizes don't meet their expectations. (When Nielsen introduced People Meters in the New York region, for instance, the size of the audience for ''The Simpsons,'' on Fox, turned out to be 30 percent smaller, while Comedy Central's audience increased by 225 percent.) Frank Maggio at ErinMedia makes a persuasive case that the set-top data is bound to come into play sooner or later, even if it turns things upside down in the process. ''What America is paying for advertising now,'' Maggio said, ''is based upon people who are going to come into your house and take apart your TV.''
As Maggio see it, ratings have to come as close to the full truth as technology allows, and the fact that Nielsen uses samples to represent him is, he said, ''infuriating.'' Of course, such fury happens to suit his company's best interests; Maggio clearly seemed to understand that in making his point, he had located Nielsen's sore spot. ''It's the American way,'' he said, comparing the use of set-top data with Nielsen's methods. ''We only accept elections that represent all our votes. Why is this different? We don't have to do it Nielsen's way anymore. And we really shouldn't do it that way anymore.''

All About the Advertising
In the view of television executives like David Poltrack, the head of research at CBS, there is no one-size-fits-all way to get true ratings. The P.P.M., for instance, is portable enough to capture any television that can be heard in an increasingly portable world -- but it still relies on a representative sample of Americans to wear it. And while set-top data can give nearly complete insights into what a vast number of household televisions are tuned to, it cannot capture media outside the home or even data from households that lack set-top boxes, and it cannot yet register whether it's the grandmother or the young mom (or both) in front of the television. ''I believe that the P.P.M. is a part of the measurement system of the future,'' Poltrack told me one day in his office at CBS, ''but it isn't necessarily the entire measurement system of the future. I can envision a system where you've got one database of hundreds of thousands or even millions of homes with set-top boxes feeding information into a measurement system. You also have these people carrying P.P.M.'s, feeding information into that measurement system. And you may have a traditional Nielsen household sample feeding information, too.'' As Poltrack sees it, the end result would be a ratings system that comes razor close to reflecting what the country now actually watches. It would also, in effect, be a mass cultural election, every day and night.
I discovered that Poltrack's vision seems to be a fairly popular one in the industry, regardless of which side you're on -- advertising, programming or measurement. ''I go to bed at night feeling very good,'' said David Verklin, the C.E.O. of Carat Americas, one of the biggest media-buying agencies. ''I feel the world is coming our way. The world of digital television, the P.P.M., the set-top boxes will give us the data we want.''
The worlds that executives like Poltrack and Verklin ultimately want, however, are quite divergent. Both desire better ratings. But Verklin wants them for more than just television. His clients, the companies that pay for ads, want to know everything about how we use every medium. They don't think of television as the future. Programs are the future. Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania who's probably the reigning academic expert on media fragmentation, takes a similar view. ''Television has to be thought of not as a box anymore but as a social role, and I think that advertisers have begun to see it that way,'' he explained. Turow said he now sees little difference between television and the Internet. Nor do his students at Penn. They watch ''The O.C.'' wherever and whenever -- on their laptops, at home on TiVo and by swapping the show (perhaps illegally) through a Web-based file-sharing program called BitTorrent. The coming generation is accustomed to the idea of watching or listening to anything on any device that's nearby, Turow said. In the meantime, his generation (he's in his 50's) ''still thinks of media in these compartmentalized ways.''
The P.P.M., of course, ignores those compartments. The endless tinkering at Arbitron is creating something to measure any piece of media, whatever form it takes. That's what Carat's Verklin wants. But that's not all he wants. People in Verklin's camp don't necessarily spend their days worrying about who is watching what. They worry about who is watching their clients' commercials, especially now that fast-forwarding or clicking past them is so easy. So for Verklin, the evolution in measurement can't stop with improved ratings. The next step, and the more lofty ambition, is to measure advertising's impact.
There is a dream within the counting industry that has been around for decades, called single-source measurement, but it has never been successfully realized. Recently, thanks to the P.P.M., this goal has been resurrected under the name Project Apollo, which is a joint effort between Arbitron and VNU (Nielsen's parent company). ''Apollo is basically something that's been the holy grail of measurement since people were drawing woolly mammoths on the side of caves,'' David Verklin said. It's a closed-loop system that will measure the media people absorb -- and then what they buy.
To this end, Apollo will track 70,000 people across the country who wear the P.P.M. all day. But not for the sake of ratings. The advertisements and messages these 70,000 people see, hear, read, encounter will be matched to the purchases they make. You could say it's a massive scientific trial of cause (marketing) and effect (buying). Or you could say with some trepidation that it's about creating a more perfect, more efficient consumer society. Linda Dupree, who is in charge of Apollo at Arbitron, put it to me this way: ''For those who have worked in advertising a long time, we think advertising works, we just don't know how.'' Apollo (the name came from someone in the project enamored of the history of early NASA launchings) should settle that.
At the moment, representatives of Arbitron and VNU are making presentations around the country to encourage big companies to sign up for the service, which should be available sometime next year. The price is high (up to $1 million per company), and many businesses are reluctant to invest in an untested product. So Arbitron and VNU are trying to stress the practical appeal: Apollo should allow companies to understand which advertisements get consumers to buy their products, but could also offer insights into the connection between their tactical approach to advertising and the urge to buy. Moreover, Apollo could give advertisers a clearer understanding of whether radio, TV or even the Web (the Internet usage of those 70,000 people will be monitored) gives them the best rate of return on their ad dollars. For instance, if Apollo demonstrates that advertisements for lemonade have a higher success rate on radio than television -- that is, the radio advertisements seem more successful at getting Apollo volunteers to buy the lemonade -- it would help companies figure out how to reallocate their marketing dollars.
So far, only Procter & Gamble has made a public commitment. But many people in the measurement industry told me they regard the ultimate success of Apollo, or some variation of Apollo, as inevitable. ''What we're talking about with using the P.P.M. for ratings is a significant change, along a fairly predictable continuum, going back 10 or 20 years,'' Steve Morris, Arbitron's C.E.O., told me. ''You want to talk about something that's discontinuous? Apollo is discontinuous. That will change the way people think about how we buy. Not right away. It will take time. But I believe that it will.''
Since Morris's company would benefit from the success of Apollo, with the P.P.M. as an essential element in the project, he has good reason to talk up its potential. Still, Morris, a soft-spoken and studious man, is hardly the sweet-talking salesman, and I found his logic airtight. ''Discontinuous, disruptive things do come along,'' Morris said, ''and you don't have a choice whether you follow them or not. They're driven by need. I think if you talk to advertisers, Apollo is exactly what they want. And the advertiser is the top of our food chain. So if that's something they want, and the technology will allow us to produce it, then you have to assume that's going to be a big part of the future.''
What Morris couldn't say -- indeed, what all of the advertisers, measurers and programmers couldn't say -- is what this means for the other parts of the food chain. Marketers often make the point that the consumer is king; one consultant for Procter & Gamble told me that that company's chairman, A.G. Lafley, never hesitates to say that the consumer, and only the consumer, is in charge. Apollo and all the other measurement services might give credence to that contention: corporations that are serious about selling products to a fragmented nation barraged by media messages will come to us for a deeper kind of understanding and approval. You could, however, see Apollo, along with the P.P.M. and encoded signals and set-top data, as a stealthy realignment in the marketplace.
What we did in the evenings, what we bought, what we desired -- wasn't that always a riddle to be guessed at by advertisers and programmers? The window-shopper, the TV watcher, the radio listener, the Web surfer -- we were all so unpredictable, so capricious and terribly human. We were king because we were somehow mysterious. Who will wear the crown now?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Mass Transit Becomes Mass Media, Boston Launches Subway TV System

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Mass Transit Becomes Mass Media, Boston Launches Subway TV System
by David Kaplan, Thursday, Mar 31, 2005 8:00 AM EST
THE DIALOGUE ON THE MASSACHUSETTS Bay Transportation Authority's subway system could go from "Do you mind if I sit down?" to "Do you mind if I change the channel?" as the Boston public transit agency is considering a plan that would put TV consoles on the trains and station platforms. The MBTA hopes that the ad revenue from having a closed-circuit system--the kind currently running in some office elevators and mall kiosks--would help stave off fare increases and service cuts amid diminishing state and local aid, a spokesman for the authority said.

"The estimates are that installing televisions on The T [as the Boston subway system is known] could generate $3.5 million in advertising revenues a year," an MBTA spokesman said. "We're currently looking for a network that would offer general newscasts in addition to advertisements. The kind of system we're looking for would be silent, with closed captioning and audio available on FM radio or FM-accessible cell phones. A plan is being submitted to the transportation system's board, and if it's approved, we would hope to have the TVs in place within a year."

The MBTA is currently facing staggering debt payments as well as a $10 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Furthermore, MBTA officials are expecting a steep decline in revenues from the system's more traditional advertising, such as bus shelters, in stations, and on electronic message boards.

Atlanta is currently the first train system installing such a network, where the subway and commuter trains are being fitted with five 15-inch flat-screen televisions per car. The televisions on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, will carry a 30-minute loop consisting of 20 minutes of local news from an ABC affiliate there and 9.5 minutes of advertising. The programming is updated throughout the day.

The Atlanta system is expected to generate $2.3 million in revenue annually, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution has reported.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Academics Field Largest Direct Observation Of Media Consumers

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Academics Field Largest Direct Observation Of Media Consumers

by Joe Mandese, Monday, Apr 4, 2005 8:00 AM EST

A YEAR AFTER IT RELEASED a breakthrough study indicating that consumers spend far more time with media than conventional media industry research has suggested, Ball State University is going back into the field with a much larger and far more ambitious second phase. The new phase, which is scheduled for the next six weeks, will be the largest and most detailed direct observation of how people actually use media. More than 400 people are being recruited as participants in this phase of the so-called "Middletown" studies, in which academic researchers were assigned to follow people throughout their media day, directly observing all of their media consumption. The first phase, which was released in February 2004 and was based on a sample of 101 people, surprised many media researchers--especially those on Madison Avenue--when it showed that mail- and telephone-based surveys significantly underestimate the amount of time people spend with media (see previous study's findings, below). But because of its relatively low sample base, some researchers sniffed at the projectability of the findings.

In addition to providing a far more representative sample base, the next phase of the study will also specifically look at how people multitask media, especially newer digital media.

"We need current research to study the impact of the new interactive, digital, and wireless media, as well as traditional newspapers, radio, and television that are dominating our lives," said Michael Bloxham, director of testing and assessment for Ball State's Center for Media Design. "In the end, our research should have an impact on not only how we understand media usage, but it should also have ramifications for media-related industries and education."

In the upcoming study, researchers will spend the day observing participants to review how they interact with media. Researchers will not rely on telephone surveys and personal diaries, because such information collection methods fail to completely capture how much media Americans use in their daily lives, Bloxham said.

"Our previous study found that we can better gauge media use by observing a person from the time they get up until the time they go to bed," he said. "Unfortunately, when telephone surveys or personal diaries are used, people tend to seriously underestimate how much they use the media."

Two renowned industry researchers, Jim Spaeth and Bill Moult, founders of Sequent Partners, have also joined the project.

Daily Time Attributed To Media Via Each Method

Phone Written Direct Phone Survey Vs.
Survey Diary Observation Direct Observation
Computer* 21 52 64 +205%
Online 29 57 78 +169%
Television 121 278 319 +164%
Books 18 17 36 +100%
Magazines 8 10 14 +75%
Radio 74 132 129 +74%
Newspapers 15 26 17 +13%

Source: Ball State University, Center for Media Design. *Home computer.