International media research expert Jennie Beck looks at factors that will influence media research in 2015.
Every annual media review will tell you that we have never seen change like this, and that audience measurement and audience understanding is at a crossroads. But for once, the crossroads metaphor is probably true – for media investment, business models, revenues and content planning as well as for media research.
In the last few months we have seen the advance of new behavioural and social feedback measures (like Twitter TV ratings); data quality being put under the spotlight; industry tenders suspended as stakeholders struggle to reach agreement on what they really need; and joint industry committees (JICs) merging, separating, co-habiting and even being threatened with extinction.
This is happening across the world, not just in South Africa. It’s also happening across media, though TV and print (newspapers, in particular) are most affected.
That is primarily because they face the same issues – the dispersion of content (and audiences) across platforms and devices, and the challenges this presents in terms of revenue and audience measurement.
So let’s focus on these two and look at where 2015 (and beyond) may lead.
Printed newspapers and magazines had a 2013 share of around 24% of global ad spend according to Group M’s ‘This Year Next Year Report’ published in July 2014. (Digital, which will include expenditure on print properties, had 20%).
Printed newspapers had 15% share overall but there are some markets where newspapers thrive. First, there are what we might call the pre-TV markets, largely in the Middle East, where TV revenue is beginning to grow and TV currencies are beginning to be taken seriously. There, printed newspapers take the vast majority of ad expenditure. In markets such as Canada, some Latin American countries, Scandinavia and key growth markets in South East Asia, newspapers may be the second or third ranked medium but still have above-average share. South Africa would sit comfortably in this category with a newspaper share of 22% in 2013.
But in many western markets – notably the US, UK and France – newspapers are having a really tough time. They have to invest heavily in expanding digital content (on websites and apps, mobile and tablet versions) while losing print ad revenue and struggling to monetise their digital content. This has a knock-on effect on their audience measurement.
Firstly, budgets are tight because they’re losing revenue. Secondly, they have more to measure. So, the focus of media researchers in many markets is the creation of imaginative approaches to cost cutting in print measurement –
like moving to a cheaper methodology, cutting the sample size and reducing the questionnaire length. Some have even suggested reducing the frequency of interviewing and modelling readership based on circulation in the gaps, or re-contacting previous respondents. But they need to do this while measuring reach across new platforms.
This is an issue for TV too – but from a position of strength, rather than weakness. TV had a 44.5% share of global ad revenue in 2013 (nearly 48% in South Africa). TV audiences remain strong too and – despite the migration of content to new platforms and devices, and catch-up services – linear TV still dominates everywhere.
But that doesn’t stop the demand for measurement of viewing on these new platforms. So here is the real challenge for media research, and it’s the same for all media: how do we measure audiences on new platforms?
There are two approaches:
- Currency extension – following the consumer to new platforms and devices
- Currency expansion – increasing the value of a currency by linking it with other data sources
Currency extension is essentially the production of single source data achieved by adding platforms/devices to print questionnaires, or adding passive measurement of new devices to Television Audience Measurement (TAM) services. But the single-source approach is not a complete solution because print questionnaires can’t be extended ad infinitum, and because TAM panels are too small to measure much second-screen activity. So currency extension and currency expansion need to happen in parallel. For the latter, we need to expand the scope and value of existing currencies by incorporating big data or census data – and this is hybrid measurement (the ‘next big thing’).
How is this happening in practice?
We are seeing increasing fusion of print and digital data, and 2014 has seen significant developments in exploration of the feasibility of a number of hybrid approaches – linking second-screen viewing data from a TAMS panel with census data from the TV players themselves; and linking TV panel data to larger-scale Return Path Data to increase granularity and stability of niche channel measurement.
In 2015, we will see more of this, and by the end of the year, we should see the publication of the first total viewing currency (a daily currency covering all TV viewing regardless of platform). That will have been the result of two years of development and, significantly, collaboration between JICs and between media owner and media research agencies.
Some will argue that the industry isn’t moving fast enough but the one thing I do know is that media innovation doesn’t move nearly as fast as the pundits would have us believe. Video didn’t kill the radio star; newspapers aren’t dead (global newspaper ad revenue forecast to decline just 2.3% in 2015 from the 2014 forecast – and to increase by 4.9% in South Africa); digital advertising will not take over (digital ad share forecast to grow from 21.6% of total global spend to 23.6% between 2014 and 2015) and the vast majority of television will continue to be viewed on the main TV screen.
So, we may be at a crossroads now, but I expect us to be there for a while, taking small steps into each alternative future, rather than hurtling down a single path.
For South Africa in 2015, the key themes will be similar as far as development and collaboration are concerned, but will also be about invention and reinvention, and bringing new research thinking and new research delivery to the fore. It’s going to be a very exciting year.
The big themes here, I think, are:
- Imaginative approaches to get more print measurement for lower budgets, and
- Learn to love hybrid.
This post was first published in 2015 The Media Yearbook. A digital version of the full magazine can be downloaded here.
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