The problem facing the media research fraternity globally is the huge amount of fragmentation and lack of agreement on metrics when it comes to measuring digital media.
Relatively little is known about online reading habits, and print media owners increasingly want reliable and comparable digital measurement to curb declining revenues. Ask Afrika has investigated how international researchers have approached this problem, with the intention of finding a solution that will be relevant to measuring local audiences. They have done in-depth analysis of print and digital research methodologies in a number of international case studies including in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium and the United States.
Globally, magazines and newspapers are under pressure. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forecast media revenue growth rates from 2013 to 2015 as zero percent for newspapers globally compared to 5.2% for South African newspapers and 0.3% for magazines globally compared to 6.6% for South African magazines. Many media pundits are sceptical about these high forecasts for South Africa. These local print figures compare favourably to the predicted growth rate of other media in the country: television 5.5%, radio 8.8%, out of home 7.2%, cinema 7.7% and internet, with by far the largest growth of 25.4%.
Print audience measurement needs to reflect readership behaviour accurately and incorporate digital. The total global magazine revenue growth rate is flat. The only growth is in digital circulation and digital advertising. The global decline in print seems to have affected local advertisers’ perception of the South African market. This could lead to the industry’s demise, when readership is, in fact, still healthy. The total number of South African magazines and newspapers are growing; however, circulation revenue is growing faster than ad revenue. Digital newspaper ad revenue in the country will help support the industry as newspapers move towards becoming omni-channel offerings, but print will remain dominant for the foreseeable future.
Globally, the digital audience is growing and is significant. At the moment, one in three people have access to the internet. One in every five people in the world owns a smartphone and one in every 17 owns a tablet. PwC predicts that in South Africa by 2017 there will be one million fixed broadband subscriptions (a compound annual growth rate of 9%) and 32 million mobile internet connections (a compound annual growth rate of of 26%). In May 2012, South Africans owned 532 000 tablets. This increased to 1.5 million in June 2013 and two million in January 2014.
In 2012 there was a global population of about seven billion and, of those, 2.5 billion people (35%-40%) read a daily newspaper in print compared to 31% of the population in South Africa. Of the global population, 7% (500 million people) read daily newspapers in print and online compared to 4% in South Africa. However, only 1% globally (100 million people) read newspapers online only. Almost half of SA (47%) read at least one magazine a year.
In the UK, online newspaper readership is bigger than print for certain titles, such as Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, but for other titles such as The Sun, Daily Mirror, The Times, Daily Express, Daily Star, Financial Times and Daily Record, print is still dominant. In the US, the Netherlands and Sweden, magazine subscriptions on smartphones and tablets are growing rapidly. The interesting dynamic is that the total time spent consuming media has remained static across all media, despite a significant increase in online consumption.
So digital migration is certainly a reality with which print owners need to contend if they want to keep their heads above water. In the US, total daily digital media use in hours exceeded total time spent viewing TV for the first time in 2013, so it is not only print that is affected by the technological revolution – or evolution, as it now more commonly called.
Philip Napoli from Fordham University presented a paper at the Print and Digital Symposium in France last year titled ‘Toward a model of audience evolution: new technologies and the transformation of media audiences’, which is clearly explained in the diagram on this page.
In order for media audience research to remain current, relevant and truly representative, it is necessary to go through a period of change, which is not always comfortable for those using it as a daily currency. Internationally, traditional exposure metrics are under stress and alternative performance metrics are increasingly being integrated into the audience measurement marketplace. There is a return to the origins of institutionalised audience research with a shift in focus from audience size to audience response.
The South African media research fraternity is undergoing massive change at present, which is not easy, but it is an opportunity for tremendous growth and improvement to create a stable, representative and reliable system to help us embrace the inevitable technological shifts.
There will be a greater role for data integration and modelling. So we need to get over our aversion to fusion in all its forms. We’ll also need to invest in the skills to do it well. We will need faster and more frequent data publication as digital access grows. That means automating systems and investing in databases, interfaces and analytical tools that are able to deal with large volumes of data and dynamic data integration.
We need an industry debate on common metrics across platforms and devices. That may mean losing some of our current (sacred?) metrics in favour of reach, time and gross point ratings. We also need agreed standards on the quality of the ‘big data’ we use. And, finally, we need increased collaboration between industry currencies. The latter may be more challenging than any other requirement but is vital. We will need some form of robust single-source, single medium currency – if only to act as hubs for the integration with brand, product and psychographic data. But as media boundaries dissolve even further, it will be important for all currencies to work together to avoid duplication and gaps.
Now that the future of the All Media and Products Survey (Amps) is less certain, this could be an opportunity to update what has, at times, been a problematic print measurement system, to integrate real-life readership measurement across an omni-channel environment into a new database. Local newspapers were also not measured by Amps and this is another issue that could be addressed as the future of print audience research in South Africa unfolds. We need a print-only currency, which is undivided and unequivocal in its print focus and passion. The print industry is facing huge transformation and, as such, should be served by a relevant, useful research currency. Perhaps it is time to stop looking at currency extension and to start looking at currency expansion.
Grant Robertson is director of strategic innovation at Ask Afrika.
This story was first published in the July 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
IMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons
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