Voltair Volume Up In US; Canada Adopts Gentlemanly 'Wait and See'

US-based Nielsen clients got on a conference call yesterday with the company to address the Voltair controversy — and Nielsen addressed it by saying it doesn’t support the Voltair unit. Company reps even went so far as to say they think it may introduce artifacts and noise into audio streams. They also said they’re making enhancements to the PPM service, to be introduced in the near future, and the Voltair is unnecessary.

That equivocation didn't sit too well with Radio Ink magazine publisher Eric Rhoads who wrote that "after all the tension about what Nielsen would do, they did pretty much as predicted: Nothing."

He didn't stop there. "By saying they don’t support Voltair, Nielsen is avoiding unhappy customers who don’t have it and may not want to spend $15,000 to buy it. They said they plan enhancements — they said these enhancements have been in the works for a year or more, though they hadn’t been publicly mentioned until this call — that will adjust the PPM service so that all things are equal and Voltair isn’t needed. But if the Voltair is unnecessary right now, what issues are these enhancements addressing? The Voltair seems to have revealed that something needs to be changed."

It's a piece of technology that has yet to prove itself, but in highly competitive radio markets any deviation from the status quo puts millions of dollars at risk.

Canada, in its own inimitable fashion, has found consensus in dealing with the 'magic box' that may enhance radio signals that electronic Portable People Meters (PPMs) are designed to pick up. The PPMs are small wireless devices screened radio listeners agree to carry with them as part of a new fangled way of collecting data about overall radio listenership. In earlier days, sample groups manually filled out paper "diaries" that were then turned in and the cumulative results were published and used by ad agencies and radio sales managers to buy and pitch ad dollars.

The Voltair technology has had minimal deployment in Canada... so far. With the jury out on whether the technology is a plus or not, it is likely that the pricey US$15,000 box will remain more a topic for debate than an economic weapon of choice.

Numeris, not Nielsen, compiles the audience measurement ratings for radio and television in Canada. It's a non-profit organization run by broadcasters, so in some ways it is limited in its power, but it also means that consensus rules — and in the case of Voltair — the agency has been able to reach agreement with its partners to put the device on ice until some hard evidence shows it is a gadget that enhances the readability of signals by PPM devices... or proves itself to be another piece of technology that promises more than it delivers.

Reached last night, Numeris member engagement director Ross Davies said his agency has reached an accord with its board to voluntarily have the device pulled from market for a set period of time.

In an e-mail Tuesday night, Davies stated that "Numeris is a separate company. Numeris is a licensee of the PPM product which is owned by Nielsen. Numeris has not forbidden broadcasters from using Voltair. Rather, the industry (as represented by the Numeris Board of Directors) agreed to a voluntary Voltair pause until such time that we can conduct thorough testing on both Voltair and the new enhanced code Nielsen announced today. This is all done in order to maintain a level playing field for the entire industry."

And that's the way it goes. In America, it's a drama unfolding. North of the border it's business as usual, and consent by quiet decree.


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