Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Walls Have Ears...So Should the PPM

Imagine that you work for Nielsen Media Research, Inc., and your job is to more accurately measure what people are watching. You look at the future and realize that you should almost exclusively collect data using a device like the Portable People Meter (PPM).

Your goal is simple. You want the PPM to identify any program that the person is watching for as long as that person is watching.

There are really just a few steps. The PPM should:
    1. measure sound waves.
    2. identify the program(s) based on these sound waves.
    3. determine whether the wearer is watching at least one program and identify which program(s).
    4. transmit this information to a centralized database for processing.
That's it. Simple enough, right?

Nielsen Media has mastered Steps #1, #2 and #4, but Step #3 is really hard. Did the sound waves come from the living room where your mostly-deaf father-in-law refuses to wear the headphones you bought him for Father's Day? Do your neighbors play their TV really loud? Are you actually watching? Is the TV just background noise? Are you sleeping with the TV on?

On Tuesday the United States Patent & Trademark Office granted a patent (7,100,181) to Nielsen Media Research, Inc. for a television proximity sensor. The main purpose of this sensor is to determine whether the sound waves came from a TV that's in the same room as the person wearing the PPM. That's a great first step — it filters out your neighbors' TVs and your mostly-deaf father-in-law's idiot box. That means the PPM will only listen to TVs that you can actually watch.

Now Nielsen has to add a sensor package to determine whether the wearer is passively exposed or actively watching any nearby TVs.

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