The future of audience measurement

What does the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) mean to the media planner? It is the body that represents media owners and marketers, and their common need to measure audiences in South Africa. However, the fact that each stakeholder is on opposite sides of the money-exchanging playing field should provide a neat cross-check of outcomes that keeps results objective and independent. Planners are largely at the receiving end of data, and any queries put to Saarf in the face of irregularities are generally handled deftly, with a reminder that in South Africa planners are privileged to have access to single-source audience measures at the click of a button.

When it comes to research technology, the nuts and bolts of the methodology and major glitches in the matrix are kept behind closed doors until Saarf has a handle on data implications. Then they can navigate wary media planners through change without widespread panic. In these cases, planners accept that no research is 100% efficient and that without hands-on experience with the processing of data, our understanding will always be rudimentary. Rudimentary, but more advanced than those to whom we report.

So on we go, selling ratings to advertisers, despite wavering levels of comfort. But let’s be honest, while the existence of a single-source establishment survey allows some comparison between print, radio and television ratings, few integrated media schedules are signed off due to their careful cross-channel weighting. The cost efficiency of a 30-second television spot placed in ‘Isidingo’ is very rarely traded off against the opportunity cost of a full-page full-colour ad in KickOff magazine.

For the most part, secondary channels are included on schedule as budget dictates. If a rating is a rating, then how hard are we trying to link this currency of exposure to outcome? How many cross-media case studies has global research agency Millward Brown actually conducted in South Africa since its launch three years ago? How many marketers are paying for econometric analysis of their marketing input and business output? Is there demand for more than a rudimentary audience evaluation process in South Africa?

The Advertising Media Forum (AMF) board of directors think ‘yes’, but let’s drill down as to why. Measurement is the key component of the media planning trade and advertiser adoption of channel. There are two types: measurement that consistently contextualises exposure over time and measurement that links exposure to outcome. Since 2009, there has been a drive by marketers to measure return on investment of their media rand. We know that with increasing advertising clutter and fragmentation of audiences, the media rand loses potential year on year.

This places pressure on media agencies to adopt aggressive trading strategies with media owners, who in turn kick back by upping inventory costs based on demand, rather than audience delivery. Over and above this, media owners are vying to take control of how audience delivery manifests. The launch of DStv-i and the first audience guaranteed packages on television is probably the most blatant development that backs this observation.

The problem is that even if the methodology is independently audited, the media owner still controls how and when results are filtered to the industry. For example, DStv-i measures the viewership of terrestrial channels via DStv decoders, but does not publish the data to media planners. Also, the incidence of trick functionality via PVR decoders is measured by DStv-i, but DStv Media Sales only uses the Television Audience Measurement Survey (Tams) to demonstrate time-shifted viewing on its channels. Selective revelation compromises contextualisation of ratings, both in and across media channels.

When it comes to connecting outcome with exposure, no media is more promising than digital forums that can accommodate direct dialogue between brands and consumers, as well as measure behaviour in real time. In markets like the United Kingdom and the United States, there are a number of credible initiatives that are developing common metrics across both traditional and digital channels, for example Nielsen’s XCR (Cross Campaign Ratings). To generate these, Nielsen is working with demographic data from Facebook to build a single currency in online display and video playback that is comparable to TV rating mechanisms.

Unfortunately, the above relies on measurements and tags ‘baked’ inside inventory ad server systems in order to use them effectively. Media owners like Google are reluctant to participate here because it feels its own active Gross Rating Point measure is more accurate than XCR and it would mean having their business performance measured by data that originated in the Facebook ecosystem.

So South Africa is far from unique when it comes to audience measurement politics. But we are unique when it comes to market disparity. Unlike the fairly homogenous UK, our diverse population make-up places an interesting spin on assumptions that can be made from sample to universe. The AMF has followed developments at Saarf very closely and have held meetings with the Marketing Association of South Africa (Masa) to gauge popular opinion. To this end we can safely say that there is a common agenda for all stakeholders to keep measurement totally independent, preferably single-sourced and collaborative, and still have the involvement of all relevant industry bodies.

What is it going to take to leapfrog audience measurement challenges faced in other markets? Perhaps looking back to the 1970s will help carve the way forward for Saarf’s survival and evolution. In those days it took the vision and hard work of three men to enable industry collaboration and the funding model that has endured until today. Together, a research technologist, a sales person and a person connected to prominent marketers, media owners and parliamentarians opened doors nationwide to roadshow the concept of independent single source-audience measurement. This was at a time when industry bodies were both rare and fragmented. Today we need to add some maverick into the mix, even if it means relaxing the regulatory bodies for a while in favour of harnessing smart, driven and skilled talent with the will to pull it all together.

On this note, the AMF has seen a major commitment to audience measurement on behalf of the Digital Media and Marketing Association (DMMA) and its entrepreneurial members. They have announced some game-changing upgrades to mobile audience measurement as well as internet population calibration to the All Media and Product Survey (Amps) that will improve the way Effective Measure data is integrated into the Telmar suite of planning tools. They further demonstrated their commitment to single source measurement by contributing funds to Saarf’s future-proofing project, alongside the AMF. We believe collaboration between the people of Saarf and DMMA can only bring about positive change for the industry as whole. We need a scenario that facilitates the magic that happens when the legendary meets the visionary.

And what is the media planner’s role in all of this? Well, we’re the end user. We are more involved in the data generation process than we know. Our daily work with the output of audience measurement puts us in the role of regulation, sense checking and interpreting the end product. Rigorous interrogation of data, coupled with the patient uptake of new processes will find the media planner essential to the endurance of independent, contextualised audience measurement in South Africa. Our desks provide the convergence point for all data, single source or not. The opportunity to add value to media owners and marketers alike places us in a wonderfully unique and interesting position. Communication and collaboration between us will help ensure that it is lucrative too.

The Advertising Media Forum (AMF) contributes a monthly column to The Media magazine looking at issues affecting the media agency industry.

This month’s Advertising Media Forum columnist is Melissa van Zyl, connection analyst at M&C Saatchi Connect.


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