Last month’s Nielsen presentation announced a number of enhancements to PPM:
So Nielsen continuously updates and enhances it technology and we have been making working on this for more than a year, developing enhancements that I’m pleased to know that we will be rolling out starting Q4 of this year.
Then just 18 days later Nielsen announced that a field-test of the enhancements in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore would begin this month. Word has it that stations hadn’t even agreed to participate when Nielsen made the field-test announcement.
First, no one we’ve spoken to can recall Nielsen announcing any plans to update PPM encoders prior to the company’s July 21st presentation. We couldn’t find any press releases, Nielsen reps hadn’t mentioned it, nothing.
There isn’t any kind of paper trail leading up to the 21st announcement or even a hint that changes to the encoder were in the works.
This all has the feeling of something that was quickly thrown together in response to Voltair, not the latest steps in a well developed long term plan to continually improve the reliability of PPM encoding/decoding.
How can Nielsen announce enhancements prior to field-testing them?
In any case, here are the two key enhancements Nielsen announced:
- An increase in code density to improve code pick-up in challenging environments.
- The ability to increase code amplification adding a third level of gain to the code.
It is clear from the descriptions of the two enhancements that Nielsen reverse-engineered Voltair or at least studied it closely enough to determine how it enhances encoding.
The enhancements are simply what Voltair does.
However, Mr. Ramaswamy went one step further.
He assured broadcasters that the algorithm would be tweaked so that the codes would be hidden even with formats with “a lot of more silence” in them. He also declared that the changes will not cause any audio artifacts or compromise user quality.
If you recall from the presentation, Mr. Ramaswamy was critical of Voltair because he claimed that Nielsen’s “golden ears” could hear Voltair at work.
All this raises a number of interesting questions.
If Nielsen is going to integrate Voltair technology into PPM encoders, how can it also claim that PPM is already nearly perfect, and that Voltair enhances encoding only by making inaudible codes audible?
Nielsen claims that Voltair extends the code tones and compromises the watermark. It also amplifies the codes and introduces “audible artifacts like static, popping, and echoes.”
But Nielsen is going to extend the code tones. It is going to “amplify” the codes.
How is it that Nielsen won’t also be making the tones audible and introduce audible artifacts?
And if the tones turn out to be audible in the field test, what will Nielsen do?
Maybe Nielsen will declare the field-test a failure–that PPM’s reliability in crediting listening cannot be improved without introducing unacceptable artifacts.
Then the company will give radio a choice: Accept that PPM misses some listening, or accept audible codes.
And perhaps Nielsen will take the matter one step further. It will finally declare Voltair unacceptable and ban it because it creates the same problems.
Maybe that is the end game. Go through the motions of a field-test, have the field test fail, and get rid of Voltair.
In any case, we expect that this test will be done just like everything else has been done regarding PPM.
The field-study will be secret, detailed results will only be released to a handful of people who sign lengthy non-disclosures agreements, and most of us will never have the information to draw our own conclusions.
We can’t wait.