AMPS is the media currency for the buying and selling of advertisements in the various media. And, in general terms, it does a very good job of it – measuring audiences, calculating readerships and counting viewers to media that are large enough to have a chance of being picked up in the sample that is reached during the survey. It profiles these results so that they can be matched to product category profiles in the same survey.
But, it’s no secret that Amps does not always serve all media equally well. It does not, for example, measure the cinema experience in the same way that it measures the way readers experience their chosen magazine titles, or viewers and listeners their favourite television or radio programmes. Nor can it – whatever the question and however the questionnaire is worded.
Amps was not designed to measure attendance at specific movies any more than it was designed to measure readership of the specialist magazine titles, with smaller readerships. These are too finely targeted and too focused for a survey that is, by its nature, designed to measure and record gross events.
Increasing its frequency and introducing the concept of rolling moving averages addressed part of this problem. But not all of it.
Media owners need to take responsibility for the accurate measurement of the audiences they deliver. They need to be accountable and answerable to advertisers for the quality of the audiences to the advertisements that they place in these media. And they need to provide reassurance to the media planners and buyers that what they say will be delivered in terms of audience size and profile has, in fact, been delivered.
Because media planning is a bet on the future, based on the best guess from research (which by its very nature is historic), there must be a requirement that the delivery and the promise at least have some correlation. Even the audience ratings (ARs) – one AR equals 1% of the target market in the room when the TV spot is flighted – proudly delivered by the People Metre surveys cannot determine the real audience to a commercial with 100% accuracy. What people do during the ad breaks is the stuff of music hall comedy.
So media owner research must play a part in supporting and explaining the audience and readership data presented by Amps. Media owners must take responsibility for the performance of their media as advertising vehicles. And media owners must be accountable to advertisers for the delivery of the audiences and readerships promised.
In addition to these obvious reasons why media owner research is an essential part of the publisher’s responsibilities, remember that media owners are also marketers of their own brands. To this end, like any other marketer, media owners need to go beyond simple descriptions of their markets (Amps) to a real understanding of the motivators that drive their businesses.
An example of this is the situation when a new title is planned. With the best will in the world, that title will not be measured on Amps until it has an official Audit Bureau of Circulations guarantee of a minimum circulation. This effectively means, in most cases, that the industry will have no data about the success or otherwise of that launch until nearly a year later.
But media owners need to track the progress of their newly launched titles using more than just their own sales figures – they need to understand the dynamics of the market in which the new title has been positioned, its effect on the competition, and the profile of the readership as it grows and settles.
This responsibility is to its own shareholders rather than to the advertising industry. But the spin-off is that the industry also benefits by early proof of performance. The requirement is that the research has credibility and substance. It must not fall into that rather dubious category of research that is regarded, rightly I think, as less than objective and just an extension of the sales pitch and patter.
Finally, there is the responsibility of publishers and station managers to assist their editors and programme planners in understanding their readers/listeners/viewers beyond just simple demographics. This is qualitative research, usually not for use outside the editorial office, designed to help keep the content relevant and useful for the readers/listeners/viewers and to keep the content up-to-date as the market changes.
Who else but the media owner himself should take responsibility for this? Who else other than the publisher has the responsibility of communicating to the marketplace what his title stands for, what the quality of the readership is like and what the advertiser who invests in that title can expect to achieve by doing so? Responsible media owners will always invest in research because not doing so would not only be irresponsible, but would also be an abrogation of their responsibility for the future health of the titles and programmes in their care.
Some examples of excellent media owner research in which I have personally been involved, and which have enriched the knowledge base of the media industry as a whole as well as of the media owners themselves, are:
1. MagTrack® – Nasionale Tydskrifte
2. Movie Barometer® – Cinemark
3. ManScan® – Touchline Media
4. Identikit® – Nasionale Tydskrifte
5. Farmers Panel – Landbouweekblad
6. The Synergy Study – Print Media SA, Print Media Owners Consortium/Ian Snelling
In addition to these studies, none of which are still going, I am aware of research currently being done by Caxton (Roots), Times Media Group (Sabre), and Ads24 [Compass]; but there are other studies.
The problem is the perceived credibility of these bodies of research among the media community. Not to mention that the data is often difficult to access in that it is not normally presented using the Telmar/IMS delivery systems. Often the data is presented with much fanfare, but rarely used as a reference for informed media decisions thereafter. And often such presentations are no more than thinly disguised sales pitches.
Media owners have a responsibility and a challenge to overcome these doubts and disadvantages, and the calibre of the research that supports their efforts will be crucial in achieving the credibility that this type of research requires. Until this happens, media agencies will rightly be wary of presenting this data to their clients, and few people will take much notice of the results. The ball is firmly in the media owners’ court to address this issue, and to find ways of making access to the data easy for media planners and marketers alike. N