Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I was a zombie for Arbitron

posted by Free Press Houston @ 10:24 AM

Leon casino,

Get up in the morning, and reach for your Arbitron Personal Meter secured away in its recharging bin, itself connected by phone to a Arbitron processing center where everyday between 4 and 6 am the device sends coded information to the Arbitron central brain. That’s the drill and for running same I collected approximately $10 to $15 a month with a first-year bonus of $200 paid in two $100 installments. Now my first year is up and the bonuses have vanished. Fifteen dollars a month is less than fifty cents a day, and that and a smile won’t get you a cup of overpriced java at Corporate Coffee.
As an Arbitron household I wore a device shaped not unlike a 20th century pager that was supposed to be kept when not worn in its recharger in my bedroom. My phone tap was actually located in the kitchen. Another requirement of being an Arbitron paid volunteer precludes being a member of the media, but it looks like I slid by on that count.
I fit into their demographic. I am a middle age white guy who lives in a shitty apartment. My pad, by the way, is harder to find than the entrance to the Batcave so when an Arbitron rep knocked on my door unannounced I had to admire the fact that they found the place.
I told the woman when asked that yes indeed I was a member of the media. This week for instance I have four press screenings, a museum media preview not to mention occasional outbursts on the Free Press Houston blog.
“When they ask you,” she told me about the Arbitron phone interview process “tell them you’re not. Do you know how long it took me to find a single white male, renter of a shitty apartment, who listens to the radio and watches Turner Classic Movies? You’re on dude, don’t even think about backing out.”
All commercial radio stations, all broadcast television stations and many cable networks, and some of the larger websites have audio subcarriers that while inaudible to the human ear can be picked up by the Arbitron Personal Meter (heretofore called the APM). What Arbitron does is similar to Nielson Media Research, they determine to some degree of accuracy what people from different demographics are watching or listening to and sell that information to said content providers who then use the data to determine their ad and commercial value. This and other information about Arbitron was discussed in an issue of Wired magazine last year.
The pager shape of the APM is obsolete in terms of ergonomic use. A more ideal shape would be something akin to a fountain pin, or simply a clip. Because of the pager proportions the only way to carry it around without having it bulge like a boner in your pocket is to clip the device onto a belt. While it’s comfortable to carry the APM in a coat pocket that’s a bit hard in the tropical pants and light shirt humidity of Houston summers. I called my Arbitron rep, the same one I lied to regarding my media affiliation, and said wearing the APM on my belt is uncomfortable. “It digs into my side whenever I get in and out of my car. Isn’t there some kind of holder you could send me that I could use to attach the APM to my belt?” I got my requested holster in the mail a few days later. True, it was a cell phone belt holster and the APM didn’t even begin to fit into it, but I felt that at least some paperwork was being shuffled. The company has obviously spent a great deal (Houston is one of its main test markets.) of time and money with the concept and design of their tools and yet the APM looks like a relic from the disco era.
Now the first year is over, and the novelty has worn thin. The whole concept of invisible waves floating through the air and being monitored by a small device reminds me of 80s sci-fi like Videodrome. Remember in that Cronenberg film how James Woods finds that a cable network is sending subliminal signals to viewers that cause them to hallucinate. Of course that was then, and the reality now is that with digital television, cell phones and other random transmissions we are constantly surrounded by all sorts of invisible waves and signals. If more than three people on the planet give a shit about that it’s a surprise to anyone.
Arbitron, it’s been kinda real but the honeymoon is over and baby needs new shoes. There’s one less household operating in Space City but that just means that you the reader will soon take my place. Cue the scary music.
- Michael Bergeron


At June 25, 2008 4:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't know whether to laugh or give you a sympathetic hug. I did the radio surveys as a kid so when they opened here in Houston, I thought it'd be a cool place to work. Not likely. It was probably the worst job I had. We badgered the hell out of the people who agreed to participate.


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