A company which has pioneered innovative uses for smart cards in set-top boxes is developing a new tool for qualitative and quantitative measurement of television viewing. Intended for use by platform operators, channels and ratings and research organisations, it has already secured its first customer and several other major players are studying the solution.

The system has been developed by TV-Card, which uses smart card technology for direct marketing and pre-payment systems for digital television.

The philosophy of this new system is to give organisations involved in the digital television market a simple, economically effective and personalisable means of gathering pertinent information about the television consumption of their subscribers, in a way that they can control.

Audience Card cards use the second smart card reader in digital TV Set-Top Boxes, of which there are about 30 million worldwide. It does not require any other equipment or additional connection or installation with the subscriber.

The platform operator customises a chosen number of cards and formats them with specific data collection criteria: geographical areas of study, the duration of the campaign, channels to be studied, days and viewing times, button presses on the remote control, qualitative questionnaires for the panel, or synchronised votes during TV shows. Cards are then sent by post to panel groups recruited for each research campaign.

TV-Card has been developing applications of smart cards in set-top boxes for many years. It originally proposed applications such as teleshopping, loyalty schemes, lottery, betting and games services.

The use of smart cards in the second slot of set-top boxes offers a promising application. Some service providers have already been developing their own solutions. The British satellite television company BSkyB has created its own Sky View panel, using software in its set-top boxes.

The appeal of this system could be for individual channels, or even consumer brands, wishing to undertake their own market research into viewer behaviour.