Nielsen Will Not Support Voltair, New Enhancements To PPM Coming
Stations Expected To Comply With Agreements, 'Respect The Currency'
July 21, 2015 at 2:19 PM (PT)
NIELSEN held its eagerly-anticipated "PPM Enhancements and VOLTAIR Testing Update" webinar TUESDAY (7/21), and the clients-only presentation by EVP/Local Media Client Solutions MATT O’GRADY, SVP/Product Leadership JENNIFER HUSTON and Chief Engineer ARUN RAMASWAMY included the results of testing that showed VOLTAIR does not affect the accuracy of NIELSEN's PPM numbers in quarter hour intervals, but does have a positive effect in extreme cases of audio interference when the audio itself is unintelligible.
RAMASWAMY said that because of the latter and the uneven implementation of the technology, NIELSEN will not support VOLTAIR. But the company also announced coming enhancements to its own technology that could help enhance detection of the watermarks. The company was silent as to whether it would require VOLTAIR's removal but repeated that the company cannot support the technology.
RAMASWAMY said that the analysis of VOLTAIR via "extensive lab testing" that included testing of loudness, the meters, whether a consumer would hear the watermark under Voltair, and other elements, both via internal and third party tests and in "limited" real world tests, found that VOLTAIR produces audible artifacts and interferes with the metering by extending and amplifying the tones. In some situations, he said, the PPM picked up more codes with VOLTAIR, but "whether this is true listening is inconclusive at this point." The effect, he added, was more pronounced at the minute level than the quarter-hour level. HUSTON added that there is "no way" to tell if VOLTAIR actually has had an impact in the ratings, because stations have not disclosed whether they are using the boxes.
NIELSEN will also be rolling out changes in the watermarking algorithm in fourth quarter, and will also allow for stations to adjust gain for the watermark based on noise in the signal. RAMASWAMY assured clients that the changes will not compromise audio quality, and will be available for all clients. A new next-generation encoding monitor will also be rolled out, and O'GRADY said that the monitors will be coming to all clients in 2016.
O'GRADY, who stressed that NIELSEN numbers "are the currency" in ratings but asked clients to "respect" the integrity of that currency, said that further details of the rollout of the technology changes will be fed to clients in SEPTEMBER.
O'Grady: It's About Respecting The Currency
In a call with ALL ACCESS after the webinar, O'GRADY reiterated that "we know right now that VOLTAIR can impact audio quality for listeners... and can affect credit for unintelligible audio." As for non-compliant stations using the VOLTAIR, O'GRADY stressed, "we expect all stations to adhere to (contract standards) and respect the currency," but noted that "VOLTAIR will be redundant and negated with the rollout of the enhancements by SEPTEMBER." "We have to maintain an even playing field," he asserted, "and we have to maintain the currency."
On the enhancements, O'GRADY said that "we've been working on (them) for quite some time." Asked about putting meters on smartphones, HUSTON said that the coming enhancement rollout does not include that technology but O'GRADY added, "we are testing the PPM on a smartphone."
Cumulus' John Dickey: Are Enhancements Response To Voltair?
CUMULUS EVP/Head Of Content & Programming JOHN DICKEY responded to ALL ACCESS for comment on the NIELSEN revelations about VOLTAIR: "My question is simply 'Did NIELSEN respond to these encoding flaws based on VOLTAIR or did they really have this in the works pre VOLTAIR as they claim?' The reason it's important is because we need to know if they are truly committed to giving us the best product possible."
Emmis' Cummings: 'Reasonable' Explanations
EMMIS President, Programming RICK CUMMINGS told ALL ACCESS, "First blush, I thought NIELSEN did a reasonable job of explaining all the testing they have done/are doing. I think their conclusion that, while VOLTAIR appeared to ‘capture more’ in settings of very low program content volume or low program volume coupled with high background noise, they cannot conclude nor quantify that VOLTAIR elevates ratings, was also reasonable, especially when it’s hard to know the extent of VOLTAIR processors in any given ppm market. I’m happy to hear Nielsen plans on CBET enhancements and a ‘modernized’ encoding monitor, although the skeptic would suggest it 'took VOLTAIR to cause this.'”
Fred Jacobs: If This Leads To More Accurate Ratings, It's Worth It
Consultant FRED JACOBS of JACOBS MEDIA, who was critical of NIELSEN's decision to close the webinar to all but clients, said, "It’s like sitting through a long, difficult movie that ends ambiguously. At first, you walk out with a feeling of disappointment. But then when you think about it on the way home, the meaning begins to sink in. If this is what it took to get on a path toward better, more accurate metered ratings, then it was worth the journey."
Bridge Ratings' Van Dyke: Testing Inconclusive
BRIDGE RATINGS' DAVE VAN DYKE responded to ALL ACCESS by noting, "The lab testing NIELSEN did with VOLTAIR is inconclusive in real-world analysis. Among the engineers I spoke with who were on the call, real-world PPM device sensitivity is difficult to duplicate in a lab environment. Actionable results in-lab will be few. In-cabin listening in a vehicle with open windows, low volume radio and even in-car talking is difficult to duplicate. Much of VOLTAIR’s benefit has been experienced in these real-world conditions.
"In-office listening environments are also difficult to duplicate in order to feel confident in NIELSEN’s testing. The audio artifacts in these environments are tough to predict.
"NIELSEN also stated that VOLTAIR can impact audio quality for listeners. There was little agreement with this statement among those I spoke with. As one PD put it, 'Would we be using it if the quality of our on-air sound was negatively impacted? No.'
"The fact that NIELSEN admitted that VOLTAIR enhanced PPM in “some situations” is a confirmation that in NIELSEN’s eyes, VOLTAIR does improve their technology. Yet they step back by stating 'whether this is true listening is inconclusive at this point.'
"Most radio managers I spoke with were disappointed with the call. After months of 'no comment' from NIELSEN, it was hoped that a more detailed and finite determination would be presented. The consensus among those I spoke with was that NIELSEN succumbed to the industry and trade pressure and had to make some statement and, in NIELSEN’s eyes, today’s comments are sufficient to hold off further heat.
"However, NIELSEN technicians are bright people and I’m sure they have analyzed internally what VOLTAIR is technically contributing or taking away from the PPM technology that hasn’t been upgraded in eight years.
"Questions: How far toward VOLTAIR’s solution will NIELSEN take the changes they intend to introduce this fall and will there be additional station expense? (And) how will NIELSEN’s 'increased density of PPM codes' compare with results current VOLTAIR users are experiencing?"
Alpha's Mahalick Looking For Fairness
ALPHA MEDIA's SCOTT MAHALICK told ALL ACCESS, “As the PPM continues to evolve we will look for more consistent, balanced and fair measurement.”
Max Media's Paulus: Welcome Step, But Questions Remain
ALL ACCESS also heard from MAX MEDIA OF HAMPTON ROADS (NORFOLK-VIRGINIA BEACH) VP/GM DAVE PAULUS, who said, "I am pleased that NIELSEN finally took this step to speak to this. It took much longer than most wanted, but they did address it."That being said, there are a lot of questions that remain, the biggest one in my mind is what does 'NIELSEN does not support the VOLTAIR product' really mean, like in 'English?' Does it mean they may disqualify ratings that are in the 'VOLTAIR period,' like (sort of) steroids in baseball? Does it mean go ahead and use them and admit to them you do so they can do a true study? Somewhere in between? When one of the FAQ’s they list on their own webinar is 'are we telling clients to remove the VOLTAIR?' and their answer is 'we will not support the VOLTAIR.' I really would have liked them to answer THEIR OWN question a bit better than that.
Come on guys, yes or no.
"At the end of the day for me at least, they did what I personally wanted to see. They addressed it. I felt like that was incredibly important for the industry, agree or disagree with what they said. Now it’s up to the industry to decide if that answer(s) they heard was/were suitable for them."