TV people meter set for launch

Audience measurement system will not 'snoop' on people's homes or be used to identify those using pirated satellite-TV cards.

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A long-awaited system to monitor TV audiences in the UAE will launch in mid-July, with the managers of the project working to allay potential privacy concerns around the project.

The Television Audience Measurement project, known as "people meters, will monitor the TV viewing habits of a select number of residences. The information collected will be used by media agencies to help them to allocate advertising spending.

About 880 set-top boxes will be distributed across the Emirates, with households asked to log which family members are watching television. The system collects tiny audio samples to determine electronically which channel is being watched.

Mohammed al Ghanim, the director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, said the project would cost Dh70 million (US$19m) to set up and run over five years.

"The target date to go live is 15 July, before Ramadan, [which is] the peak for all the broadcasters in the region. After the launch date, on a daily basis we will be getting the measurement and the programmes," he said.

The Emirates Media Measurement Company, which is behind the project, will be incorporated soon, he added.

The managers of the project are working to reassure the public that the system will not intrude on their privacy, or even recognise whether they are using a "pirated" satellite-TV card.

Christopher O'Hearn, the project manager of Emirates Television Audience Measurement, said the data collected was entirely confidential, and that the short audio samples collected by the set-top boxes would be recognised only by a computer.

"People are sometimes worried about privacy in their home," he said. "We're recording tiny, absolutely indecipherable samples of audio which makes sense to a computer but not to anybody else." Identifying users of pirate satellite-TV signals is not an objective of the system, Mr O'Hearn said.

"Purely from a technical point of view, the box doesn't know where the signal comes from. So whether you've got it legally or illegally, to the box, it can't tell."