Exclusive: T.O.'s Troubles Spell Big Gains

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Terrell Owen's troubles spelled big viewership gains for ESPN, according to Arbitron's Houston test of Portable People Meters.

During the September 27 news conference in which the Dallas Cowboy disputed reports of an attempted suicide, viewing of ESPN's live coverage of the 2:30 p.m. event was up 225% from the previous quarter hour, according to Arbitron, with almost half of that (45%) out-of-home viewing (the norm is about 13%).

That suggests a lot of office TV's may have been tuned to the press conference, which was ESPN's highest-rated quarter hour of the day in the market.

Arbitron's Houston PPM test has previously shown large out-of-home viewership for ESPN, particularly to its Monday Night Football games, which suggests viewers lacking cable but still in the Monday Night Football habit may be going to a bar or friend's house, though some with cable may also be choosing to watch in bunches where beverages are served.

Ratings from Arbitron competitor, Nielsen, are based on in-home viewing and do not include viewing in bars or hotels. Back in March, Nielsen decided not to go into business with Arbitron to deploy the Portable People Meters, though it plans to make measuring out-of-home viewing part of its future.

Arbitron has had operational oversight of the new system, which is being evaluated in Houston, while Nielsen had invested, by its count, "tens of millions" in the technology but had not committed to joining the venture.

Not long after, Arbitron touted the out-of-home viewing to NCAA's March Madness basketball finals, suggesting stations needed to get more bang for their board-banging bucks. According to that study, between a third and a half of viewing to semifinal and final games of the NCAA basketball tournament by panel participants in Houston was out-of-home.

Arbtiron plans to drill down into the relationship of the "where" to the "who and What" of ratings once armed with the meters, which measure viewing and listening through pager-sized meters that travel with the viewer or listener.

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