NEW YORK: In a new $3.5 million (€2.36m; £1.78m) initiative, The Nielsen Company will from next month track the media usage habits of a panel of some 450 consumers in two phases throughout this year. The move was announced within hours of Nielsen's pulling the plug on Project Apollo.

The latest venture, undertaken at the behest of the Committee for Research Excellence – an alliance of agencies, media companies and client marketers – will see Nielsen spooks literally following panel members around all day.

From the time the subjects awake until they hit the hay, researchers will make detailed notes about when and how they watch TV, listen to radio, surf the web, read, play video games, download, text and speak on the phone.

[Which suggests George Orwell was an optimist!]

Says CRE chairwoman and Carat svp-director of programming Shari Anne Brill: "We think this will be a landmark study with groundbreaking results. It will give us a blueprint of consumers' access to media content across all screens, platforms and locations throughout their waking day."

A panel of 350 consumers – all former participants in Nielsen's national TV ratings panel – will be monitored for a full day in the spring and fall of this year by trackers using electronic handheld note-taking devices.

They will monitor subjects' interaction within seventeen different media categories, noting whether they are used singly or in multiple combinations. The study will cover five markets: Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. 

Concurrent with each seasonal survey, a separate 100-strong panel will also be tracked. Prior to the second phase, panel members will have the option to purchase Slingboxes, DVRs and other flavor-of-the-month media gizmos at discounted rates.

Nielsen believes this will serve as a predictor of how new media devices are likely to affect future television viewing patterns.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff