Arbitron to scan consumer tastes in Baltimore area

December 19, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

If George Orwell worked for Arbitron Ratings Co., he'd love ScanAmerica.

Slated to appear in the Baltimore area in three months, the Big Brother-like system tells Arbitron what television programs a household watches, who is watching and what grocery products are bought, Pierre R. Megroz said yesterday.

ScanAmerica first debuted in -- you guessed it -- 1984, in the Denver television market. It came to Pittsburgh, Phoenix and St. Louis last year. Kansas City, Mo., and 500 of the Baltimore area's 940,000 television viewing households are scheduled to get it next year.

The system focuses on two hand-held pieces of electronic equipment: a portable scanning wand that reads the rectangular bar codes found on grocery items, and a remote control device that has codes for individual viewers to identify themselves and the channel they're watching.

Each of these items transmits information to a household data collector installed by Arbitron, which stores the information and downloads it to Arbitron's Beltsville computer complex each night, Mr. Megroz said. As a result, subscribing television stations can get overnight TV ratings, and subscribing advertising agencies and advertisers get a detailed breakdown of the purchasing habits of viewers of particular programs.

Each of the 500 Baltimore-area households selected to participate in the program will receive $300 to $400 annually.

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