Because iTunes was meant to be the beginning of the end for radio, wasn’t it?
As it stands, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even as listening platforms proliferate and audiences fragment – and iTunes collapses under its own weight – radio persists.
Which might be putting it a little too mildly. Despite its challenges – and perhaps even despite a popular opinion of the contrary – radio is doing okay. More than okay, actually.
In fact, around 80 percent of people listen to their favourite radio stations – in their car, on their computer and on AM and FM frequencies – in any given week. For more listenership numbers, check out the latest Radio Survey results to be published on StopPress on Friday.
But for such a pervasive, modern medium, radio still carries something of a low-fi stigma. AM, FM, and what about those pencil and paper-based listener diaries? No wonder radio has a reputation for fuzzy listener numbers and convoluted measuring processes.
“It’s a fair perception,” says Peter Richardson, general manager at The Radio Bureau. “You hear the word ‘diary’ and you think the worst.”
Luckily reputation isn’t necessarily reality. The fact is, the radio industry takes its measurement processes deadly seriously. And while those pen-and-paper-based systems might look old-fashioned, they belie a robust, cross-platform reporting project that does well measuring the seemingly unmeasurable.
“The reason the process is so hard is that you’re not measuring devices, you’re measuring people,” says Jana Rangooni, CEO at the Radio Broadcasters Association.
“There are so many ways you can consume radio, it’s very unlikely that one methodology will ever be able to capture everything, so it’s about asking: how can we bring together all these different data sources?”
“The challenge with radio audience measurement has always been the fact that radio is so portable and ubiquitous,” says Deb Hishon, media measurement director for ANZ at market research company GfK.
“Unlike television, where traditionally a metre was applied to a fixed set in people’s homes, it simply isn’t possible to attach a metre to all the radios – or all the possible listening platforms – that a respondent may use, which is why we are looking at a hybrid solution.”
Announced by the Australian radio industry at the end of 2018, the radio listenership super pilot project is a global first in terms of both scale and scope, as the industry moves to find new ways to collect increasingly disparate radio listening behaviours.
The new multi-pronged measuring system will involve thousands of respondents and combines traditional survey methods, as well as bringing in electronic metering and streaming data.
“Each respondent will be required to wear the GfK Watch, install the GfK App to their smartphone and complete a radio diary,” Hishon says. “During the same period of time we will be collecting streaming data from the Australian radio stations websites, players and apps using GfK’s tagging technology.”
The digital data is collected using GfK’s Sensic tag which is embedded into the website and the player and informs GfK when a person visits the website and when they start and stop listening to a radio station online.
“Ultimately this will give us a very rich data set that will then be used to develop a hybrid model that may be used for radio audience measurement going forward. Having this rich data will also provide the GfK the opportunity to design a hybrid system for other countries that will suit their own unique needs and requirements.”
Measurement Innovation Program
And while the Super Pilot Program will go a long way towards improving the tracking of local radio listenership, an even bigger project is also underway to create better methodologies for measuring radio audiences. The Measurement Innovation Program is a research project designed to explore different measurement tools that capture radio audiences and, when complete, will underpin the development of a whole new roadmap for audience measurement.
“This project is being run in parallel to the regular radio surveys,” Hishon says. “The core purpose of the MIP is to test as many different sources of audience data as possible, to then interrogate both the data itself and the data collection tools, with a view to creating a reliable and robust hybrid measurement system that will provide a holistic audience measurement system with greater granularity.”
The aim is to ultimately bring together the best elements of the diary system and other measurement techniques to create a truly holistic measurement service for the radio industry.
“The Measurement Innovation Program will include investigation into the GfK radio listening diary, the GfK Watch, the GfK smartphone App and streaming data we collect using our tagging product. These components are what we are working with at this point of the Program and we may include additional components later.”
So, with robust measurement and methodology projects underway, we’re well on the way to better tracking of the fragmented radio landscape.
“The challenges are really around the research: how do we actually capture it all?,” Rangooni says.
“We’re in good shape, but I think we’re probably underreporting a lot of listening that’s done because we can’t bring it all in and fuse it together. More and more radio listenership is done via phones, PCs, and increasingly, smart speakers. That’s a great opportunity for us, because we’re not the frequency numbers, we’re brands.”
“In radio, we don’t think of ourselves as ‘FM’ or ‘AM’ entities,” Rangooni says, “because that’s probably not going to be the way most people consume what radio produces in the future. That’s the challenge and the opportunity.”
So while the tech is getting better, the challenge of measurement is likely a perennial one. The industry is used to doing what it takes to shine a light on its listenership.
“The industry spends a truckload on these surveys every year and we want to be as accurate as possible, so we’re constantly looking at ways we can get it better,” says The Radio Bureau’s Peter Richardson.
“For example, we can ask: is there a certain segment that’s underrepresented? How could we work better with those people? There are all sorts of things going on behind the scenes to make the reporting more robust, even though it’s already the biggest media sample survey in the country, but there’s always ways of making it better.”
“Other mediums are going through that now or have so over that past five to ten years,” says Richardson, “but radio has always been an adaptable and agile medium.”
“Just look at the way presenters now exist across platforms. The shows are filmed and streamed, they are on social media, they’re always looking for the next way to engage with their audiences.”
“It’s only by really embracing the new technology that’s allowed the medium to remain so relevant.”
This story is part of a content partnership with The Radio Bureau.