Arbitron's Portable People Meter

Most of the story is about the how the ratings business is changing right now, but the New York Times Magazine had a little something today about how Arbitron, a company which measures radio station ratings, is currently testing the Portable

Portable People Meter

People Meter, a pager-like two-inch by half-inch gadget that is supposed to be able to track all the media you're exposed to throughout the day. Volunteers in Houston who have agreed to test the Portable People Meters are expected to wear them during all waking hours and then pop them into a cradle before they go to bed at night so the PPM can communicate back to Arbitron HQ what radio station you were listening to, what TV shows you were watching, etc.

Assuming that it works—the PPM relies on radio and TV stations participating in the trials to encode special markers into their programming—this system would be more reliable than their current technique, which mainly involves trying to get people to keep track of what they listen to themselves. The scariest/most fascinating part is that if Arbitron could somehow convince record labels, film studios, video game makers, etc to insert these marker codes into the audio tracks for their products, they could conceivably have some crazily accurate figures on how people are actually consuming media (Max Headroom, anyone?). And yes, they're already trying to work GPS in there somehow, as well as figure out if RFID tags in magazines and newspapers could be used to track your exposure to print advertising.