| Audience meters
are on the way soon.
Two years ago in considering radio
rating (RNW Comment July 2001)
we said, "In future, we rather suspect the diary system will
wither away in favour of the more automated and more easily processed
information from meters."
That future we suspect is not now far away so we felt it was time
to revisit the issue as competing systems based on Arbitron's Portable
People Meter (PPM) and the RadioControl meter
system have already gone into use in various countries round the
What timescale? To what
The obvious first question is how soon will
metering systems predominate over diaries and whether they
will replace them completely or only to a degree with a limited
amount of dual system operation, possibly as a crosscheck.
We tend to think that diaries will be all but dead in the
major markets within five years because of a combination of
the problems diary systems already face in some areas with
response rates, because of the economics and because of the
perceived efficiency of automated systems amongst many people
- well, except when they involve voting machines that punch
chads out, or not, as the case may be.
We also tend to think that once metering has made sufficient
inroads, diaries will only be retained to a minimal degree
if at all and that logically, once adequate definitions have
been arrived at of what meters can measure and agreement reached
as to what is to be demanded of them, meters will prove a
more economically efficient method of generating statistics.
It then follows that there needs to be clear thinking about what
a meter can do and those areas where the human input that goes
into a diary system produces information that the meters cannot.
There then has to be some agreement as to how important this information
is and whether it needs to be gathered.
If it does, the next question is whether it would be better to
generate this information by different means such as one-off market
research or by retaining a smaller number of diary-keepers for
specific purposes, possibly say for some qualitative feedback.
So what can a meter system provide? It can certainly provide information
about the audio being broadcast at whatever location it is positioned
or taken to. This can either come from matching the audio received
with that known to have been broadcast (the basis of the RadioControl
meter) or though detecting codes embedded in the broadcast audio
(the basis for Arbitron's Portable People Meter system and, also,
through some form of watermarking for various systems being developed
to track copyrighted material).
Even then, however, for some modes of listening the meter is of
no use; Sony saw to that with the Walkman and subsequent developments
of personal audio devices listened to through headphones. Diaries
would presumably pick up such listeners so it would be reasonable
to ask how large a percentage of listening takes place using such
devices before just moving to meters.Equally meters will pick
up listening for a few seconds, something that diary systems neglect.
How important is this?
What we would suggest as the ideal - never to be realised, of
course - would be a way to measure and then analyse all listening
in terms of what actually was being listened to, what was there
but secondary (the noise in a bar, for example, can include radio
or TV yet be mainly ignored) and also some way of grading the
attention actually being paid to the programming and the degree
to which it is being appreciated (the difference say between pop
merely as a background and the impact of a pop classic that is
really listened to.)
Being practical however, what will be paid for in most of the
world on a regular basis (i.e. ratings as opposed to one-off market
research) is related to commerce: the business is how many ears
are being delivered to the advertiser trying to sell things with
an additional degree of interest as to what demographic they are
in so as to increase the likelihood of the goods being sold being
purchased by the audience of a station.
In the end, it seems to us meters are not a
perfect answer but they can provide most of the basic information
needed in a wide range of circumstances with comparatively
little further tweaking. Beyond this more limited one-off
or sample surveys using diaries and other market research
techniques can probably come up with most, if not all, the
information now being collated.
In addition they eliminate some of the weaknesses of the human
element and would probably be significantly cheaper We can
see the industry calling for more development for a year or
two but have no doubt that after that the days of the meter
will be upon us.
What does remain to be determined is the degree of sophistication
that will be required of them and we do have some concerns
there about the pressures that will be put upon rating organisations
by commercial interests pushing to protect their patch. We
have already in our view seen some of this in the manner in
which Kelvin MacKenzie, chief executive of The
Wireless Group, had pushed the introduction of the
RadioControl meter system (being used by GfK Media
for its ratings and concurrent attacks on RAJAR,
the official ratings organisation.
The latter has not turned down meters but is evaluating them
carefully; it's approach seems sensible and that of MacKenzie
self-serving (He gets a significant boost from the new figures.)
As always in the end it won't be a case of the figures lying
but there may yet be pressures that will make them mislead
without proper attention to what should be measured and what
actually is being.
What you think? Please