There have been a number of final chapters (the last AMPS report and the last RAMS diary) in the world of South African media research recently. Hearteningly, these are being counterbalanced by some previews of the new audience measurement systems that will be coming into play later in the year.
Last Friday Clare O’Neil, CEO of the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa (BRC), invited representatives of the Johannesburg branch of the reconstituted Advertising Media Forum (AMF) to take a peek at the “newborn baby RAM” (Radio Audience Measurement).
Of course, Clare was quick to remind us that we were only looking at the first wave of the study comprising data from some 7 500 households, collected between 7 January and 31 March. Given the small size of the sample, both Clare and the TNS team reiterated that this first glimpse was to be confined to the generalities of the research rather than an examination of station specific audiences. The data was still “hot of the press” with the BRC and TNS having only had the first results four days earlier. There is still further validation and scrutiny work to be done, but the BRC and TNS were comfortable with sharing top-line data.
This new RAM marks a brand new approach in monitoring radio listening habits, having been designed as a bespoke stand-alone survey to meet the research requirements of both the broadcasters and the advertisers. It will, nevertheless, be possible to tie back RAM data to the new Establishment Survey (ES) when that is published, due to both surveys utilising a master sample frame delivered by the expert demographers IHS. This should greatly please agency planners and buyers who have long struggled with the differing universes in the Saarf AMPS and RAMS surveys.
The new RAM survey consists of two elements. The first is a placement interview which collects information about the household and individuals over the age of 15. The second is a radio diary designed to collect listening, by the quarter hour across the whole week, for all South Africa’s commercial and community radio stations. A stringent set of editing rules will ensure that only properly completed diaries will be included in the published currency data.
The annual sample has been increased by 20% to 30 000, with the intention of producing a 9% overall improvement in precision. To ensure consistent and stable data, interviewing is now spread over 50 weeks of the year, with all area types and provinces consistently represented. Household flooding, which means that diaries are left with each member of the household member over the age of 15, will result in the currency being based on around 70 000 completed individual diaries a year.
I have already mentioned that the master sample frame has been supplied by IHS. Not only will this provide the basis for both RAM and ES population estimates, but this sample frame is reassuringly reflective of the current South African population in terms of racial composition. Inevitably this will have a knock-on effect in terms of LSM (or whatever socio-economic measurement may be adopted) population profile. We are likely to see a broader middle class than the previous Saarf data showed.
Other innovations were introduced to the RAM diaries to make them easier to use. An example is the personalisation of the diary by pre-listing the stations a listener claims to listen to, as well as allowing him or her to add a station should a new one catch his/her ears. To better reflect the reality of radio use, the diary facilitates the recording of up to three stations within any quarter hour. Location of listening is also now recorded, as is the device used for each listening occasion. This is particularly important as radio listening on affordable FM-enabled cellphones has become significant. Simple observation is testament to solace radio provides to security guards and taxi commuters, among others.
Considering these adjustments, all designed to ensure the more accurate and realistic capturing of audience listening habits, it was no surprise that the overall top-line audience data showed a healthy picture and one which certainly accorded with intuition and common sense. The overall pattern of listenership is different from the one with which South African planners have become familiar – high morning drive listenership, slumping significantly over lunchtime and then partially recovering in the afternoon. This ‘Bactrian’ or double-humped camel shape, as Jennie Beck, director of media at TNS Global and Kantar Media so aptly described it, was always one that was counter intuitive and difficult to explain. The new listening curve is more evenly spread across the day, albeit with a solid morning listenership. Keeping with the previous animal simile, Jennie called it the “sleeping lion” shape. I was delighted that the other members of the preview audience also felt that this shape made sense. Of course, we also had reassurance from TNS that this shape fits more closely with the listening patterns seen across many countries internationally.
This first glimpse of the data was certainly seemed well received, and there was recognition of the efforts that have gone into the establishment of this new measurement system. Gordon Patterson of OMD called it a “fantastic accomplishment and an exciting step forwards”. The first full industry release of the data is scheduled for late August, when there will enough data to reliably delve into the details of listenership. This will be a landmark moment for radio broadcasting, with broadcasters in a position to engage with advertisers and their media agencies, with a new, in-depth and more realistic picture of listening habits.
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