Becomes fourth radio group to do so.

Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio group which is leading an industry committee to evaluate electronic radio ratings systems, has joined three other radio groups in agreeing to encode their Houston radio stations for Media Audit/Ipsos’ technical tests of a smart cell-phone based ratings device. Monday’s announcement follows less than one week after Arbitron announced it would begin to rollout its portable people meter service in the top 50 markets beginning with Houston this July.

The other radio groups that have agreed to encode for Media Audit/Ipsos include CBS Radio, Cox Radio and Radio One. Both Cox and Radio One have refused to participate in Arbitron’s demonstration of the PPM ratings service in Houston, which has been generating monthly ratings since July 2005.

While Media Audit/Ipsos is only in the early stages of development, the concept of a smart cell-phone device has caught the imagination of broadcasters and put additional negotiation pressure on Arbitron to sign subscribers to its PPM service in Houston.

So far, only Spanish Broadcasting System and Beasley Broadcast Group have signed for Arbitron’s service, but neither group has stations in Houston. On the other hand, 50 agencies representing more than 90 percent of national spot radio dollars have signed for the PPM service.

The list grew Monday when Arbitron announced that OMD and PhD, two of the largest agencies, have signed PPM contracts.

A comment from CCR president/CEO John Hogan in a press release announcing its decision to encode offers the most palpable evidence yet that temperatures are rising at ground zero for electronic audience measurement. “Creating a reliable, consistent solution takes more than technology and field tests and accreditation – it takes maturity and professionalism and the ability to understand the issues of all the players involved,” Hogan said. “We have experienced nothing but maturity, professionalism, true understanding and assistance from the Media Audit/Ipsos since the RFP process began. Radio is fortunate to have such a strong company interested in being a partner as we drive toward electronic measurement.”

Formed last summer when Arbitron began proposing a 40 to 65 percent rate increase for a PPM ratings service, Clear Channel’s electronic ratings evaluation committee made up of industry representatives, will hold another meeting this week with the committee’s three finalists: Arbitron, Media Audit/Ipsos, and MRI.

Media Audit is a Houston-based, privately owned qualitative research company. Based in the U.K., Ipsos, a U.K. is a publicly traded media research firm.
Their service would be based on Ipsos' new smart phone technology, a high-end cell phone that would also record media exposure by tracking watermarked-encoded signals or by audio-matching signals that are not encoded.

More companies are expected to sign up for the Media Audit/Ipsos tests. The Houston radio operators who have not yet agreed to encode fir them are Cumulus Media, Susquehanna Broadcasting, Univision Radio, Liberman Broadcasting, KCOH, Inc., and Darrell E. Martin.