SAN MATEO, California: "People don't know how to measure the multimedia world we live in, so any piece of the puzzle is helpful," opines Brad Bortner, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

But help is at hand. Integrated Media Measurement, a small Californian media research company, has neatly fitted together several key pieces of the multimedia measurement jigsaw.

Currently under trial by NBC Universal and other networks is IMM's new technology that measures consumers' exposure to the audio element in ads on TV, radio, computers, mobile phones, DVDs and inside a movie theatre.

NBC has used the system to track how people watch shows like Heroes or major sports events such as the Beijing Olympics

IMMI's software is embedded within the open-architecture cellphones of 4,900 panelists, thereby enabling 24/7 digital monitoring of media that other research companies can't accurately measure, eg ...

  • Television viewing outside the home
  • Time-shifted and on-demand viewing
  • Radio
  • DVDs, audio CDs
  • In-theater films, live concerts and sporting events
  • Cellphone videos and games.
The phones detect audio content from an ad or a TV show and convert this into a proprietary digital code which is uploaded to the IMMI database. This, in turn, holds codes for other media content to which the panellist is exposed.

The system then matches the code to other data held by IMM and calculates the panelist's media consumption, at the same time filtering-out cellphone conversations and background noise.

The company cites an example of the system's effectiveness in establishing an ad's RoI. When a panel member is exposed to a movie trailer on TV and he/she later goes to see the movie, both acts are recorded on IMM's database.

IMMI data can likewise indicate if a panelist viewing a promo for a TV program later watches that show - either on TV or online.

The company believes the concept is expandable from movies and TV shows to consumer products like shampoo or toothpaste, and is currently testing the technology with a national grocery retail chain.

Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC, acknowledges that while the IMM technology isn't perfect, it does help NBC to answer questions about how viewers watch its programming.

"I'm convinced the handset will be the way we will measure media going forward," he says.

But  Mark Loughney, ABC's vp of sales and strategy research, remains cautious, opining that IMMI's panel is still too small to make long term decisions. "For now, it's a supplement, not a replacement to what we use," he says.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff