Round two in the ongoing independent media research debate has kicked off. The battle cries ‘whose money is it’ is joined by ‘whose IP is it’?
Recently re-elected chair of the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf), Virginia Hollis, is a woman on many missions. Over the past nine months she has surrounded herself with what she describes as a top level board. They include marketers, media and advertising, print, broadcasting and out of home media representatives. The Marketing Association has jacked up their representation with Professor Pierre Joubert as an alternate and Heidi Brauer is taking over the Saarf position vacated by Greg Graden last year. Linda Gibson has been replaced by Ingrid Louw, CEO of Print and Digital Media Association (PDMSA).
Paul Haupt, who controlled Saarf from top to toe for two decades, has retired and acting CEO Ettiene Van Den Berg is slowly getting to grips with the 40 year old organisation. He’s no doubt discovering a range of vested interests and bitter, often personal attacks that have plagued the media and marketing sector since the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) resigned mid 2013. Prior to that, Saarf experienced a particularly dismal decade, failing to move with vast changes in media research methodologies and technology, dealing with dwindling participation in the meetings of the organisation and a distinct lack of leadership and vision.
Whilst many took umbrage at the way in which it was done, it is now acknowledged that the resignation of the NAB set fresh wheels in motion.
Hollis is battling to control the trajectory of Saarf and cites two of her major aims as communication and education. As a user of the research data, she is clearly appalled at the lack of research education and training within media agencies. “Even the recent changes to TAMS, which have been widely promoted, are not understood, and LSMs remain challenging to some users,” she says.
She can share some of the Saarf product education with the NAB – “They and the RAB are willing to do it” – but it is communication that requires regular attention. “It’s a long road; I want to keep everyone talking and navigate our way through the agendas, which get emotional.”
She has also faced the criticism that media funded research is not transparent and lacks credibility. Her answer in relation to Saarf is a simple one. “It is to do with sampling and weighting largely; if the Establishment Survey is transparent the add ons such as RAMS, PAMS and TAMS will be too.”
Whose money and whose IP?
Whilst her ambitions are honourable (some view her ongoing commitment to Saarf as beyond the call of duty) the new intellectual property elephant in the room may set the process back – and the perennial “whose money is it “was again raised by a marketer who did, however, concede that without funding from the NAB, Saarf would cease to exist. Other than NAB the other major player is PDMSA who recently issued a statement that suggests they continue to investigate the most appropriate way forward for print media research. In a nutshell, the question is whether they should follow the NAB lead and create their own Joint Industry Committee (JIC) or stick it out with Saarf.
The needs of newspapers and magazines differ and it is no secret that newspaper media owners have created their own research to supplement Saarf’s AMPS – a bolt on to the Establishment Survey (ES). Expensive research surveys that are largely trusted as independent and credible despite being owned by media groups, include ROOTS from CTP/Caxton and Compass 24 from Media24.
The question of intellectual property ownership is complex and arose when the NAB drew up a TAMS tripartite agreement with Saarf and long standing supplier AC Nielsen. On the eve of signing the agreement Saarf sprung a surprise by claiming ownership of the intellectual property associated with TAMS, RAMS, Establishment Survey, TV households and LSMs and declining to sign until the agreement was amended to reflect this ownership. The negotiation is not one that can be handled without legal intervention. Hollis acknowledges that the NAB has the resources to fight the battle and that Saarf should not be committing their funds to expensive litigation. However as she puts it, “What else has Saarf got if not its IP?”
At time of writing the debate had moved to a more manageable level, with Saarf conceding that the panels belong to service provider AC Nielsen and the signing of the agreement need not be delayed should NAB agree to debating ownership of the brands and LSMs outside of the agreement.
The stickiest issue may well be that of Living Standards Measurement (LSM). The concept and thinking behind this segmentation of audiences is widely attributed to the late Eddie Schulze, research director at Lever Brothers (now Unilever) and a major advertiser. He gave the concept and its workings to Saarf as a gesture towards industry wide media measurement .A juicy prospect for IP lawyers to contemplate and charge the industry for reaching a resolution.
Whilst this debate may strike some as a side issue, Saarf board member Peter Langschmidt has made it clear that Saarf will re-invent itself and earn money through the sale of specific research questions covering media and brands. This in addition to expecting NAB, PDMSA and other media owners to continue contributing to Saarf. He must see ownership of LSMs as the key to this initiative.
So as Saarf puts one matter to rest so others arise. Ever the optimist Hollis remains cheerful. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a future. “
Most of us are hoping she is right and that the light does not cost the media and marketing sector money, time and credibility.
Sandra Gordon is the CEO of Wag the Dog Publishers, and publisher of The Media Online and The Media magazine.