Bye bye diary? Radio industry reviews its research methodology, looks to move away from twice-yearly survey

In an era where the online realm has allowed marketers and media owners to measure, track and chart everything in real-time, it seems slightly anachronistic to record radio listenership by getting people to fill in a paper diary. And the radio industry seems to agree, because it’s currently reviewing its research methodology and, as a result, won’t be conducting its regular T1 survey.

The contract with research provider TNS finished at the end of last year. And while Radio Broadcasters Association chief executive Bill Francis didn’t want to comment on the specifics of the matter, he did say the industry has “a desire for its research to reflect contemporary methodologies around data collection and capture some of the other ways people are listening to radio”.

What form that will take is still being discussed. But MediaWorks’ head of revenue Liz Fraser says it is leading the charge on this and it has appointed two global experts—Peter Don, from the Australian-based BPR group, and David Kidd, who has held research director and senior programming roles with Australia’s Southern Cross Austereo, ARN, and Macquarie Radio Network—to provide an independent report looking into a range of international radio markets including the USA, UK, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Australia that are using or trialling new methods or technologies to measure audience engagement across multiple platforms. They will also be consulting with the local advertising industry for the report.

Fraser says the radio measurement system works really well and provides good insight into audiences. But it’s old and it runs the risk of becoming outdated, something that has been brought into sharper focus with the arrival of sophisticated measurement tools in the online realm. She says there has been a lot of talk about reviewing it over the years. But little progress was being made on that, so it decided to take the initiative.

Initially, she said its main competitor NZME wasn’t supportive of this approach, but it has now backed the report. Independent radio stations are also supportive, she says. And while the final decision on which methodology the industry will use for audience measurement lies with the RBA, she says it is paying for the services of Don and Kidd. 

“We believe our clients should have access to radio audience data that is of an international standard … Our goal is a customer-focused ratings methodology that provides the depth and breadth of data needed to make the best buying decisions. Achieving this outcome is a key priority for our business.” 

She says major media agencies and clients have been very supportive of the move, and she believes that foregoing the T1 survey (which covers the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch markets, as opposed to the T2 survey, which covers the whole country) won’t impact radio ad spend because this is a long-term play that will benefit advertisers and the industry as a whole.

She says the nationwide data and insights from last year’s T2 survey are still able to be used and they will remain the industry standard until the review is complete. 

One of the issues with the paper diary system is that it is based on what is remembered, rather than what actually happens. And there can be a big difference between the two. But there are other options being experimented with around the world.

It’s thought the local industry has tested an app from Ipsos called MediaCell, which detects inaudible codes inserted into the audio streams of any medium—principally radio, television and the internet. When people hear the sounds, their smartphones automatically capture the time, date, place and source of their listening. It’s also been trialled in Italy and the UK and, as Ipsos says: “A whole raft of analyses not previously possible using diary or telephone survey data are being investigated, including audience flow data, ListenerGraphics, Channel Health and Programme, Presenter and Playlist evaluations as well as advertising effectiveness. Thanks to a low burden on panellists, we find they remain much longer with us, reducing the cost of recruitment significantly over time.”

In the US, Nielsen launched a Portable People Meter in 2007 that panelists are paid to wear. Like MediaCell, it also detects sub-audible codes and, as of 2010, 48 radio markets were using the technology.

In other markets, paper diaries are still used, but are often augmented with rolling online panels (in Australia, 20 percent of the panel is online and in the UK it’s 50 percent). The major radio companies also conduct their own internal research (Fraser says MediaWorks does this by phone). And Radio New Zealand uses Nielsen to conduct its audience research. It’s also a paper diary, but, rather than the twice-yearly survey, the All New Zealand Radio Survey runs for 40 weeks between February and November and involves approximately 4,000 people. 

Fraser says moving away from the twice-yearly cycle—and the ensuing station promotions/bribes/stunts designed to create a spike in listenership, as referenced openly by Jay Jay Feeney at 2.10 in MediaWorks’ reach video below—is a high priority. 

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