Linda Gibson insists that print media gets a raw deal when it comes to audience measurements and this urgently needs to be changed.
The phrase “it was on the front page of the newspaper” still holds gravitas, yet it isn’t a secret that despite the importance of newspapers as conveyers of authority and truth, this medium is losing advertising spend to other media.
The question to ask, however, is if the ‘print currency’ – namely the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) – is a fair measurement by which to gauge the success of newspapers in South Africa. Media measurement across the industry spectrum appears to be outdated and imbalanced.
For instance, the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) TV Audience Measurement Survey (TAMS) is issued daily, so that TV ad sales teams can show frequent results to media agencies and advertisers.
The TAMS panel comprises households who have access to working TV sets. By comparison, the print reach estimate is based on everyone in South Africa and is not restricted to those who buy newspapers and magazines. Simply put, the numbers are favourably skewed towards the smaller TAMS sample.
Chris Eyre of Essential Media Solutions consultancy, says, “TV reach is therefore reflected as higher than it should be and, on the same basis, print readership should also be higher, if based on the same logic. Print gets a rather raw deal, but advertisers and media agencies insist on audited figures.”
The Ipsos Report ‘Understanding Newspaper Audiences’ states that there are weaknesses in the old-style print surveys. Most of the 90 or so surveys around the world only publish data that averages over a six- or 12-month period. This means that the nuances of frequent consumption are not captured.
“The lack of granularity in newspaper audience measurement often means that advertising in the medium is not measured or not measured correctly. It is therefore likely to lose funds to other media when budgets are allocated,” the report says.
Hence, the two main methods of proving newspapers’ worth to advertisers cannot truly capture actual behaviour. There have been attempts by some countries around the world, however, to mould a realistic and fair ‘print currency’ model.
Grant Robertson of research company Ask Afrika provided details of Canada’s print currency model. The Print Measurement Bureau, comScore and Inc announced late last year the release of a ‘fused’ database linking Canadians’ online media habits with print readership data, along with product and brand usage, all in a single database. “The industry welcomes the combined print and website audience data as it can now demonstrate to buyers and planners the unduplicated audience from both channels,” he said.
In the United Kingdom, the National Readership Survey (NRS) launched its new print and digital dataset, NRS PADD, which included the website and print readership figures for all the major UK national newspapers and consumer magazines, as well as data from over 400 non-publisher websites. Robertson explained that alongside headline readership figures, users will also be able to review unique audience figures for print and online as well as the unduplicated combined net audience, comparisons between age and demographic profile data and an integrated model of reach and frequency for print and online.
In a time of unprecedented technological change, the newspaper industry must now look at giving advertisers what they really want: a mix of print and digital solutions. This will inform the future of the ‘print currency’ as it morphs into including print’s digital properties.
The International News Media Association (INMA) report, ‘Making Print and Digital Work for Advertisers’, says, “Hand-in-hand with their evolution to multimedia companies, (print) publishers are re-positioning themselves as a toolkit of print and digital marketing solutions… As it becomes comfortable with the credibility and relevance of the brand environment across platforms, the advertising community is warming to the idea of the news media company as a toolkit of solutions.”
INMA’s report asserts that advertisers and media agencies want their campaigns to be real-time, relevant, engaging, personalised and social. Print plays a role in this, “but not an exclusive role as in the past”.
“The advertising community tells INMA that as it relates to publishers, they want to move from pure reach to quality reach, target reach, content with high engagement, substantial purchase intention and relevant data and actionable audiences,” the report adds.
In an online world, the fairest representation of total audience includes digital and is garnered at more frequent intervals.
Saarf chairperson Clare O’Neil says, “We need to take control as best we can of our changing industry landscape, and make plans now that will ensure that our vital research currencies continue to thrive into the future.”
We face a rapidly changing media landscape. Content is breaking out of the traditional media boxes and spreading across platforms, mutating and proliferating at speed and, as a result, media audience research will need to adapt to these changes.
And O’Neil asks, “Does this mean we need to change how our media audience currencies are carried out? If we have to change everything, how will we fund it?”
We will have to all sit down together and forge a path ahead to find the answers to these questions.
Linda Gibson is the chief executive officer of Ads24, the national sales and trade marketing division of Media24 Newspapers and their digital properties.