By Adam R Jacobson
In a web presentation moderated this afternoon by Nielsen Audio EVP of Local Media Client Solutions Matt O’Grady, SVP of Product Leadership Jennifer Huston and Chief Engineer Arun Ramaswamy, the nation’s leading provider of AM and FM radio ratings estimates concluded that Telos Alliance’s Voltair processor “introduces audible artifacts for listeners” and “interferes with the encoding process by altering Nielsen watermarks and by making them audible.”
In short: The controversial audio processing system can, in extreme cases, affect the accuracy of one’s exposure to radio signals by the Nielsen Audio Portable People Meter (PPM).
This, along with the fact that Voltair is used by some but not all encoded radio stations, resulted in Nielsen declaring that it will not support Voltair.
The announcement, while not surprising, left some in the radio industry puzzled on what to do should they be using the system.
“Soooo…we don’t support Voltair, but we are not saying you must take it out of your Processing Racks???,” Nashville-based air personality Kenny Smoov Tweeted following the call.
Meanwhile, radio industry trade publications posted updates in real time despite Nielsen Audio’s decision to bar press from the client-only call, open to representatives from the NAB and RAB in addition to radio station personnel and executives.
Among Nielsen Audio’s other conclusions on Voltair:
* PPM can pick up more codes with Voltair “in some situations where background noise is equal to or greater than the audio content.”
* Voltair generates variability; when the “dial is turned up,” the effect on the watermark and the codes is increased.
* The Voltair effect was more visible at the minute-level than at the adjusted quarter-hour level
As reported by industry trade portal AllAccess.com, Huston told those on the webinar that while PPM picked up more codes with Voltair, its impact on ratings is unknown at this time as stations using the device have not disclosed to Nielsen Audio that they are doing so. “Whether this is true listening is inconclusive at this point,” Ramaswamy added.
While Nielsen is not supporting Voltair, the company unveiled that it is testing new watermark improvements. According to AllAccess.com and Radioinsight.com, it will be available to subscribers in Q4. This will effectively allow stations to adjust gain for the watermark based on noise in the signal. Nielsen Audio has also developed “a next generation in-station monitor to replace the existing monitor.” This will be rolled out in 2016.
Meanwhile, open-ended interpretations of what radio stations should do about Voltair continue to be voiced.
“Any mention of penalties for stations that continue to use Voltair?” asked Dale Dubilowski, Director of Interactive Media for Blackburn Radio, based in Ontario.
Dubilowski knows all too well about Voltair’s impact on radio listening estimates: Numeris, the Canadian non-profit rating consortium, placed a ban on its use by all AM and FM stations, questioning the fairness of having some broadcasters–but not all–use the device.
Such a move will likely not happen in the U.S. But what’s to come is likely to be the question of the year for an industry seeking a rebound through an accountability system demanded by media buyers and planners that is now shrouded in a sea of uncertainty.