Radio Week: GfK and TRB on the intricacies of radio audience measurement

It’s no walk in the park measuring an audience in today’s ever-fragmenting media climate. While radio was once a stylish, yet clunky looking box taking up a decent portion of the living area, surrounded by mum, dad and their rosy-cheeked 2.5 children, now, we can access radio almost anywhere, anytime, through a range of devices.

Radio ga ga

Radio is an industry fraught with buzzwords, acronyms and jargon. So, it’s understandable to feel a little apprehensive when clicking on a radio story.

In fact, the New Zealand radio industry’s dedicated planning arm, TRB (The Radio Bureau) has an entire glossary on its website dedicated to unveiling the meaning behind particularly vexing radio terminology.

But, after chatting to GfK Australia and New Zealand media measurement director Deb Hishon, we realise it’s not all as complicated as it seems. 

Measuring up

There have been a few changes in radio audience measurement in recent times. In 2016, New Zealand changed radio measurement providers from TNS to GfK. Since GfK took over, the survey period has also increased, running over 40 weeks of the year, with results being released four times annually to more accurately reflect listenership.

Further, in 2018 GfK’s survey now represents “all of New Zealand” according to Hishon, not just the previously reported 13 markets.

“For 2018 we have reviewed the survey coverage areas, these have not been reviewed for many years, and have adjusted, where appropriate, the survey area to better reflect the radio signal and coverage population spread.”

So, how does it all work?

The number of listeners are captured using a paper diary, says Hishon, where 80 percent of respondents record their listening habits, while the remaining 20 percent use an online diary after being recruited for the survey online.

The listening habits of those who have physical diaries will be filled out by an entire household (family members over 10 years of age).

Hishon says both diary types are placed in proportion to the population, or via geographical spread and GfK works with Statistics New Zealand to ensure the right number of diaries are placed across the country.

GfK also carries out a non-commercial surveys to ensure the data is complete and unbiased. “There is a commercial radio release, followed by the non-commercial release for RNZ one week later.” She says this is standard practice by media research companies in radio.

With knowledge comes power

But, how does GfK accurately measure radio when it’s listened to through a number of platforms, for example: AM/FM frequencies, radio-streaming platforms like iHeartRadio and Rova, podcasts, brand extensions like The Edge TV and not to mention the number of devices to portal it through.

The radio diary captures all forms of radio listening, Hishon says. “We ask respondents to capture how they are listening to radio. For example, what device people are using to listen to the radio. The traditional radio set, their cells, tablets, computers, televisions, etcetera.”

She says the survey offers a lot of valuable insights like listening share, the size of each stations/markets unique audience (reach), the average number of listeners in any given quarter hour, the amount of time spent listening to the radio or to a station, what proportion of a station’s audience is loyal or exclusive to one radio station, among other useful information.

“We also collect a lot more than just plain age and gender demographics we capture information like household size, language spoken in home, ethnicity, income, grocery buyer status and much more,” she says.

She says additional lifestyle insights across the following categories are also collected: media, lifestyle and travel, household and home, technology, purchase behaviour, finance and insurance, and food and beverage.

For comparison’s sake

But does GfK’s measurement system stack up compared to other overseas research groups?

“I think the methodology has proven successful and it’s very similar to what has worked in most overseas markets,” TRB general manager Peter Richardson says. “Although the diary system might appear to be outmoded there is certainly no better alternative that exists.”

He says other methods have been trialled but are not reliable yet and are still in the testing stage.

And, compared to measurement methods for other media, like television, Richardson reckons radio comes out on top.

“It’s got a large sample size and is the largest media survey in the country, so the number of people being asked for their listenership information dwarves any other media surveys.”

Hishon agrees but says all media has different challenges in measurement. “Television viewing has [also]changed so much over the past few years with multi-screen viewing, different platform offerings, out-of-home viewing and catch up TV.”

She says the same of print with the advent of online readership. “The key is that the measurement service must evolve with how the media is consumed.”

But, of course, just as important as the data itself is what you do with it.   

Crunching the numbers

Richardson says information from the surveys is used heavily by TRB every day.

“We have a team of four dedicated planners and they spend day in day out planning radio for our agencies and our clients. They look at regions, demographics and any way they can get better performance for the clients and get better bang for buck.”

He says the data makes a huge difference. “The changes in data will cause a schedule to change that’s targeting a particular demographic.”

As radio continues to evolve and expand over different platforms and technology keeps improving, it’ll be interesting to see how measurement methods change over the next few years.

But, it seems New Zealand’s current measurement system is ticking along nicely, with radio still being a sought-after platform by advertisers. And, when radio in the country has over three million New Zealanders tuning into it on a weekly basis, it doesn’t look like advertisers will be losing interest anytime soon. 

This story is part of a content partnership with The Radio Bureau.

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