One of the most talked about issues in the radio industry in South Africa over the past year has been the uncertainly over audience measurement. It’s well-known that the National Association of Broadcasters has advised Saarf that they will serve a year’s notice at the end of 2013. There has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the overall measurement methodologies and the changing samples used in the Saarf field research for Rams and AMPS. Changes in the sampling methodologies has, in many cases, led to certain stations recording substantial and inexplicable audience losses.
I have said on many platforms, and I continue to maintain my position that “Rams is rubbish – but it’s the only rubbish we have”. (OK for those who have attended one of my radio presentations you know exactly the language that I use when I make this point). I know that this may be a tad unfair, but in order to achieve excellent results for advertising clients, one needs to look beyond Rams and gain an insight into the station’s audience.
The Rams data has been key to informing decision-making with regards to media plans and schedules. If the data isn’t trustworthy, the advertiser could be prejudiced and the campaign could fail to achieve desired outcomes, which will in turn have a downstream impact on radio adspend.
Historically, Rams has been used to provide trend indicators however you cannot determine and measure any trends when the survey sample is shifting. A shifting sample affects the baseline data and removes the opportunity to compare on a like-for-like basis.
Rams research is conducted on a diary basis and any shift in the sample to whom the diaries are distributed, can have a substantial impact on the current data sets and indicate major changes in listenership patterns. It’s important to note that stations don’t ever find fault with RAMS when the indicators show an increase in the size of their audience, but the moment that there is a drop in audience, the methodology is immediately brought into question.
One of the major issues with Rams (and indeed all radio audience measurement tools) is the time lag that occurs between the field research and the issuing of results. Essentially, you are being asked to make a decision about your media selection for the present and the future, based on indicators that have been determined some three months ago. For an industry that is constantly embracing new technology, this is not very scientific and not very accurate.
With the great deal of uncertainty about Rams, and until the audience measurement protocol is determined, the industry is going to get a great deal of conflicting data about listenership figures. Planning radio campaigns is going to require more consideration than merely the numbers and I hope that for the sake of the radio industry, the RAMS matter is rapidly resolved. It is important to have audience data independently researched and on a basis that gives meaningful data across the entire industry.
Stations and marketers alike need a credible source of independent data relating to the station’s audience. After all, no matter how big an audience any media entity claims to have, businesses are not going to spend their ad budget there for very long if they don’t see a decent return. And irrespective of how good a station’s sales team is and irrespective of how compelling the station’s own research may appear, it is the bottom-line ROI that the advertiser is interested in.
I know that the NAB has established a high-level task team to review and reform the research situation and that this team is currently engaging with renowned global experts. It will be absolutely vital to the health of the entire radio sector that this is resolved timeously.
A tale in mitigation…
In planning to spend a client’s budget in various media, media planners need to understand their client’s objectives and to look for opportunities that would give them (and their clients) outstanding results. Take for example a small community station in Gauteng who, according to RAMS has such a statistically small audience that it cannot be quantified. Yet when this station holds a charity drive, it manages to raise well over R1 million from its audience. Clearly RAMS is wrong in terms of the audience and clearly this is an audience with money. It is an audience that listens- and reacts- to the station and one that most certainly has the means to consume many products that are being advertised elsewhere, but not on the specific community station because “the audience is too small”.