Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I’ve been cautious in my previous reporting about the impact of Voltair [link], the black box that claims to boost PPM ratings. My caution comes from the lack of publically reported evidence about the performance of the $15,000 device.

Here is why this is important: Stations insert an encoded digital watermark in their signal/stream that is measured by Nielsen Audio PPM monitoring devices.  Voltair makes the watermark more robust so it is more likely the PPM device will read it and report it. PPM reports are used by commercial stations to set ad rates.

Last week, Numeris, the Canadian ratings company (formerly BBM) banned the use of Voltair. As first reported in the trade publication RADIO INK [link], Numeris told Canadian radio broadcasters to physically disconnect their Voltair encoders by the end of the week. The stated reason:

Canada's level measurement playing field must be maintained…

Numeris told stations that Voltair unfairly manipulates station ratings.

(In the United States, Nielsen Audio says it is testing the unit to see what, if any, impact it has on ratings.)


Numeris plays the same role, and has the same industry impact as Nielsen Audio in the US. Their word sets the standards.  But the motivations of the companies couldn’t be more different. Nielsen is a for profit, publically traded research giant.  Numeris is a nonprofit organization that is supported by Canadian broadcasters.

I recommend an excellent post on the Paragon Media Strategies blog [link] by Larry Johnson, Senior Research Consultant at Paragon.  Here are some of Johnson’s thoughts:


Steroids for radio just received a major setback north of the border, where radio ratings are run by a station-supported non-profit. Here in the U.S., where for-profit and publicly-traded Nielsen is fully in control of radio station’s ratings fate, we’re still hearing crickets. Like the steroids scandals in professional sports, the stakes could not be bigger as this issue undermines the credibility of the entire radio industry.

Like steroids that alter reality, the Voltair device is designed to boost a radio station’s measurable signal thus enhancing the Portable People Meter’s (PPM) ability to detect the signal and increase a station’s ratings…the Canadians are having none of it.

The history of radio ratings is littered with bogus methods to goose stations’ ratings. Until there are scientific tests to either debunk or substantiate the effectiveness of the Voltair black box processor, we can’t be certain of its effectiveness.

Here’s where the game’s creator and referee needs to step in. For the sake of its clients, Nielsen needs to take immediate action to assure that its many subscribers are competing on a level playing field.

Nielsen also needs to step in for the sake of radio in general. Until we know which stations are on steroids, which are not, and more importantly, the fundamental validity of PPM ratings without steroids, then the mystery will grow and only radio and Nielsen will suffer.

I agree.  Maybe US broadcasters should create a nonprofit org to play the same role that Numeris plays north of the border.


Will advertisers and media buyers continue to have confidence in Nielsen Audio’s PPM data?  Nielsen listens to the money.  If the big ad agencies balk, change will occur quickly.

I have been monitoring advertising trade publications for coverage of Voltair.  To date there has been no concern, or even news, about Voltair from Nielsen’s top ad clients.

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