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MRI Gearing Up to Test RFID for Tracking Magazine Usage

Mediamark Research and Intelligence is testing the use of active tags and sensors to measure how magazines are read in waiting rooms.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 04, 2007Mediamark Research and Intelligence (MRI), a New York-based provider of magazine audience and multimedia research data, is testing the use of RFID technology to measure how magazines are read in waiting rooms. The amount of time readers spend with those magazines, as well as how long they linger on particular advertisement pages, is considered golden data to the advertisers and magazine publishers that MRI serves. After multiple lab tests, MRI is set to begin its first public-space RFID test early next year. The trial will take place in one to three waiting rooms in or around New York City, and will last for one month, according to Jay Mattlin, MRI's senior VP of new ventures.

In 2005, MRI began researching whether RFID could be used as a tool for what is known as passive measurement of magazine usage (see RFID News Roundup: Research Group Considers Tags to Track Mags). "Passive" refers not to a batteryless type of RFID tag, but rather an indirect approach to tracking a publication's readership. A direct approach, in contrast, consists of a phone interview or other means of data-collection in which a reader is actively engaged.

MRI has partnered with TagSense, a Cambridge, Mass., technology development company, to develop the RFID tracking method that will be used in the field test. After its initial lab tests with RFID tags and interrogators, the companies concluded that tracking magazine usage in public spaces should be conducted using active tags rather than passive, since active tags could hold more data than passive tags and offer greater readability and range.

For the field test, a TagSense ZT-50 active tag, which transmits data at 2.45 GHz, will be mounted on the back half of a protective plastic cover on each test magazine in the waiting rooms. The TagSense tag and interrogator employ an IEEE 802.15.4 air-interface protocol similar to that used by the ZigBee standard for wireless sensor networks, often used for home automation. A sensor integrated with the tag will communicate with a wireless inductive marker attached to the front half of the magazine's protective cover. Based on its distance from the marker, the sensor will indicate each time the magazine is opened, and the tag's memory will store each event, along with a timestamp.

The sensor will take a new reading each second. Every half hour, the tag will transmit all this data to the RFID interrogator installed in each waiting room. Should one of the magazines be removed from the tag's 131-foot read range, MRI will still be able to ascertain whether—and for how long—the magazine is opened, since the tag will store the data until reestablishing communication with the interrogator. The interrogator will periodically send all the tag data it collects to a Web site maintained by TagSense. MRI will then download the data from the site in order to determine how well the equipment is working.

In later field tests, additional markers will be added to the magazines, explains Rich Fletcher, TagSense's chief technical officer, to track a person's exposure to individual pages. Each supplementary marker will require an additional sensor added to the tag, which Fletcher says can support up to eight sensors. Though the markers to be used in the initial tests will be stickers placed on the magazines, Fletcher says, they could be printed on the magazines using conductive ink.

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