A huge argument recently exploded online about the accuracy of measuring online radio. Industry leaders give their perspective.
The launch of a number of new online radio stations in the last few years is a healthy addition to the local digital broadcast sector. But the hotly debated issue of the measurement of these stations has recently been inflamed by the bandying about of a number of purportedly inflated online metrics. This has led to rigorous debate and in one instance, litigation by certain players.
The primary focus of the controversy is an exposé published by IT specialist Shaun Dewberry insisting the figures provided were vastly inflated. Thereafter, internet streaming service provider NetDynamix admitted that the numbers it provides to its clients – including the country’s top two online radio stations 2oceansvibe and Ballz Visual Media – might not be an accurate representation of their listenership.
The Mail & Guardian website,
M&G.co.za, reported that the company provided numbers to its clients based on ’sessions‘. The M&G article explains: “A session refers to a connection to a server in order to receive an audio or video stream. It does not take into account whether the same user may be initiating multiple sessions, which may happen if, for example, a user was disconnected from the internet and had to reconnect, or switched from one device to another.”
However, reports provided to clients, such as 2oceansvibe, clearly label the numbers as ‘total listeners’. MyBroadband editor Rudolph Muller added that if NetDynamix figures are accurate, it would make 2oceansvibe and Ballz Visual Radio two of the top streaming radio stations in the world!
When everyone else is losing their heads…
Primedia chief operating officer Ryan Till is fairly pragmatic about the controversy surrounding the online radio space. He points out that there is often an initial spike of interest in the digital sector when a concept comes about and then a flurry of activity behind the scenes to work out how to make it commercial. The latter is the phase the local industry is
“Online streaming, IP radio, internet radio, or podcasts – whatever you call it – it’s all just audio on the internet and it’s a reality that it will simply grow over time. We’re all playing around in this space – from existing terrestrial operators, to those who are sharing their passion for great audio with anyone who will listen.
“Unfortunately, the only thing to suffer in this process is the medium of online radio, as confidence has been knocked in the ability of the medium to quantify its impact, which is not going to serve anyone – the techies, the providers, or those who want to advertise on it.”
Kagiso Broadcasting chief executive officer Nick Grubb agrees, saying, “It’s fairly typical of a new media proposition to encounter large discrepancies between the owners on reporting metrics. It’s the normal growing pains as they and advertisers reach for the most appropriate ways of representing their market power.”
A page view does not a stream make!
To understand the broader debate, it’s vital to look at the more technical side of online radio measurement, especially as many stations seem to be quoting the wrong metrics (such as page views), which really are meaningless in measuring an online radio station’s audience.
“The key to understanding these figures is firstly to appreciate that a page view is when a page in a website successfully loads, while audio streaming normally involves the user clicking to start the stream after the page has loaded. Given that most users need to click to start the stream, reporting page views is clearly overstating the actual numbers of streams,” says Kagiso Digital (a subsidiary of Kagiso New Media) divisional head, Attila Bernariusz.
Within the online audience, there is the total number of streams requested during a time period, then the final dilution of that, the unique streams or unique online listeners for a particular measured period, for example a week or a month. So although a total stream figure of a particular station may be 94 000 (that is, users who have made return visits), the individual number of listeners might only be
Bernariusz says: “The issue at present is that many of the figures being bandied about are not stream stats but either total streams or even, more likely, traditional website measurement stats (e.g. page views). In the interests of clarity it’s therefore important to appreciate the meaning of these kinds of figures, should they be presented to you for inclusion in a media plan.”
Adding to the complexity is that individual users may use multiple browsers – such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox – to access the net. In light of that, when people say that unique browsers are unique users, that’s not strictly true. It’s also difficult to consolidate, for example, iPhone and laptop usage by the same person without a login process, so each of these devices is also taken as a unique device, and cannot be consolidated into a unique browser or unique user metric.
A measurement minefield
Underpinning the specific method of measurement is the pressing issue that there is currently no official third party vendor (such as Effective Measure) measuring stream on behalf of online radio stations in South Africa.
The need for a standardised system is exacerbated by the fact that there are a range of available measurement systems at present (for example Google Analytics, comScore, Nielsen, Effective Measure), all of which are based on varying algorithms. This has created the issue that it’s currently almost impossible to compare like with like in the online space unless a single third party facilitates measurement and ranking.
RAB general manager Matona Sakupwanya says: “The growth of online radio is a welcome development as it signals a healthy ability for radio to evolve with the times. That said, there is no ignoring the fact that the current online radio industry is yet to find a currency for measuring audience numbers that is done independently, like traditional radio’s RAMS conducted by the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF).”
“To eliminate this perceived ‘comparison of apples with pears’, there is an urgency for online radio to establish a similar measurement tool. This will go a long way towards developing a sound market-place.”
From Kagiso’s vantage point Grubb adds, “We believe wholeheartedly in the future of digital radio, as we do in the sustained and growing relevance of terrestrial stations. Our call is for the Digital Media and Marketing Association (DMMA) or some such other appropriate body to co-ordinate opinion, endorse and publish an audited and accurate measurement metric for online radio.
“The broader industry needs to come together and facilitate a standardised currency to measure online streaming through an agreed third party. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem given that the large players like ourselves, Primedia and the SABC are already registered with the DMMA.
“This means it wouldn’t be too difficult for the major players to have a discussion to decide upon a unified measurement system that would give a lot more, long overdue weight to the online radio medium.”
PHOTO: Ryan Till
This story was first published in the August 2012 issue of The Media magazine.