Media measurement's second coming

With decisions made on the future of outdoor and digital audience, and VOZ now in the market, there's finally momentum back in the business of media measurement

Welcome to Unmade, mostly written on a grey Tuesday afternoon at Sisters Beach.

This morning, it’s a whole other picture. There’s mist on the horizon as the sun comes up over Sisters Island, but otherwise not a cloud in the sky. It might only be six degrees C here in Tasmania, but it looks like spring has sprung.

So, pinch, punch, first of the month. Also, happy Ginger Cat Appreciation Day.

Unmade’s numbers are still growing fast. We’re up to 898 signups. That’s pretty amazing, considering it’s only been just over a week since starting.

Back in the beginning of Mumbrella, we took a few liberties to find our audience. I added people I’d crossed paths with into the database, with the cheesy (and now I come to think of it, slightly passive aggressive) message: “We think of you as friends and family, but feel free to unsubscribe if you don’t feel the same way.” This time round, every one of those Unmade signups has been spontaneous. Thank you for joining me so early in this Substack adventure. Please do tell a friend or colleague who might benefit from signing up. There’s even a handy button to make it easy for them:

Today’s writing soundtrack: You Am I’s Hourly, Daily, which has just celebrated its 25 anniversary. Back in 2013, I sat opposite Tim Rogers at a dinner to launch a new music show he was hosting for SBS’s sadly now dead subscription TV arts channel Studio. While I came away thinking what a throughly nice (and remarkably tall) person he was, it only dawned on me in the years that followed, as I got to know Australian music better, what a privilege that evening had been.

This week has been all about audience surveys. Yesterday morning, the radio industry’s fifth ratings survey of the year arrived. And on Monday, the IAB finally dropped Nielsen from its audience system.

Fordham back on top

We’ll start with Sydney radio.

Ben Fordham got the headlines seven weeks ago when he lost the number one slot. And he got them again yesterday when his 2GB show regained the lead.

Few people now working in Australian media would remember a time when 2GB was not at number one, thanks to Alan Jones dominating the breakfast timeslot. So it was a momentous moment when Kiis FM’s Kyle & Jackie O overtook his successor Fordham in the fourth survey of the ratings year.

A lot has changed in Australia since then of course. The two sets of ratings represent radically different environments.

Survey four covered April 18 to June 26. It was a time when the country was enjoying freedom from Covid and we were all naively optimistic that we had put the worst of the pandemic behind us.

It was only at 6pm on Saturday June 26, the last day of the previous survey as it happens, that Sydney belatedly went back into the lockdown from which it is yet to emerge.

Because the radio surveys operate in waves, this week’s results include a crossover with the previous set. So survey five covers May 23 to June 26, then resumed from July 11 to August 14.

Understandably, Sydney listeners went back to talk radio. As the lockdown got underway, listeners returned to AM talk radio and Fordham stopped giving NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian such an easy ride. Her 11am press conference became as much of a daily appointments as Dan Andrews’ had in the big Melbourne lockdown.

Fordham’s average 5.30am to 9am audience grew from an average of 109,000 in survey four, to 135,000 in survey five, which amounted to a 16.8 per cent audience share.

Meanwhile, Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson’s entertainment based show fell from 128,000 to an average of 98,000 which was a 12.1 per cent share, but still easily enough to keep them at number one in FM, if not overall.

And understandably, ABC Sydney's talk based breakfast show with Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck also grew - up from 98,000 to 113,000, a 14 per cent share.

Given that Sydney remains in lockdown, and the sixth survey of the year crosses over with half of survey five, covering July 11 to September 18, I wouldn’t be expecting dramatic changes in Sydney when the sixth survey is released at the end of this month. (Is it just me, or does ratings day come around sooner these days?)

Before we move away from Sydney, it’s worth noting that the situation of Southern Cross Austereo’s 2DayFM worsened during lockdown. The breakfast audience for The Morning Crew, which features Dave Hughes, Ed Kavalee and Erin Molan averaged just 19,000 listeners, or a miserable 2.4 per cent share.

Before the numbers came out yesterday morning, I streamed the show to see how it was going. Molan was absent while she focused on her defamation case against the Daily Mail. Stressful as that court case (which relates to her previous on air role with 2GB) must be, it’s hard to imagine Sandilands or Henderson staying away from the microphone in a similar situation. Imagine the sort of compelling on air content that being in the middle of a civil trial could give.

It’s hard to know what to make of the show. Yesterday Hughes and Kavalee trudged through a call-in in which “nice guys” were invited to share their stories of being friendzoned. Anyone familiar with the Nice Guys subreddit would have raised an eyebrow.

It’s a show, and indeed a radio station, that doesn’t seem to quite know what it should be. A few days ago, The Morning Crew included the crunching gear change of Senator Jim Molan, Erin Molan’s father, calling in for a chat about the deteriorating situation in Kabul. The same goes for music policy, which is similarly confused, ranging from “the music that Sydney grew up with” to current hits.

The fact that the cumulative audience of the show across the week was 196,000 suggests the problem is not one of marketing. Listeners are sampling the show. But that 19,000 listening average suggests they’re not sticking around once they hear it.

The show gets so much scrutiny because the station and the timeslot used to be Southern Cross Austereo’s flagship, before Sandilands and Henderson defected in 2014 to launch Kiis. I feel for the three presenters who are all talented in their own ways. Unusually for radio, The Morning Crew is less than the sum of its parts.

But we have to look beyond Sydney for the biggest audience in the industry. Despite numbers slipping, 3AW’s Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft have the biggest audience in the country, with an average of 166,000 tuning in, 20.8% of the Melbourne audience.

However, their cumulative weekly figure of 560,000 is now just behind the ABC Melbourne’s Sammy J, who narrowly overtook them with a number of 567,000.

I wouldn’t be surprised if both stations grow in the next number as the latest Melbourne lockdown kicked in a few weeks after Sydney’s.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne FM, Gold 104.3’s Christian O’Connell is starting to make his lead look comfortable. His 8.9 per cent share now has daylight before Fox FM’s 6.7 per cent for Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Nick Cody.

Turning to Perth, one notable result out west is that of of Basil Zempilas. Having departed talk station 6PR, his reinvention on Triple M is not going particularly well. He’s now on the bottom rating commercial breakfast show, with an average audience of just 17,000 and a share of 5.4 per cent. Mr Perth indeed.

Meanwhile, I wonder though how long radio ratings will go on in their current format. For years, the industry body Commercial Radio Australia has been fighting a brilliant rearguard action on preventing any serious innovation in the ratings. It’s worked for the industry. In the main, the trade press reports percentage share of audience as the headline because that is what is released first. Average listening numbers and cumulative audience come later, and are far less impressive compared to television for instance.

The radio ratings system itself - asking listeners to keep a diary - is pretty basic too.

But streaming and podcasting is now well on the way to become commercially relevant and advertisers will want to be able to compare like with like. As the big radio players race towards the wider opportunities around audio, I suspect the incentive to modernise and widen audio ratings will become irresistible. It may come sooner than we think.

Bringing sexy measurement back

We’ve had the best part of a decade of inertia on changes to media measurement.

Since MOVE, designed to estimate outdoor audience, launched in February 2010, and the IAB gave the online audience measurement gig to Nielsen in May 2011, not much changed for the rest of the decade. Even talk of the impossible dream of cross platform measurement went quiet

But it’s once again all kicking off. Earlier this year, the outdoor industry agreed to fund MOVE 2. It’s a badly needed update, now that much of the best billboard inventory has since been digitised.

And last month VOZ - Virtual Audience Australia - finally launched. Delivered by the established TV ratings player Oztam, it's designed to provide an overall TV viewing figure taking in traditional broadcast, live streams and catchup viewing.

Initially, the talk was of moving towards, effectively, three numbers - overnight, after seven days and then after 28 days. But although VOZ started covering the data from July 7, the 28 day numbers are yet to be widely available.

The seven day VOZ numbers offer a few clues about the type of show that benefit from the uplift. Reality and shiny floor shows do well. News and live sport less so. It all makes sense.

I’m intrigued that three of the top five shows in Ten’s list for that week were episodes of Survivor. They enjoyed video on demand bumps ranging from 11 per cent for the Sunday episode to 15 per cent, on top of the linear broadcast for the Tuesday episode.

I wonder whether some overseas viewing is sneaking in. The Survivor subreddit (I seem to be talking a lot about Reddit today) quickly pulls in more than a thousand comments almost as soon as each Australian episode has aired. It’s being watched live, or close enough. Yet many of those commenters seem to be Survivor fans overseas. I suspect they’re watching via VPN.

When Oztam starts releasing the 28-day VOZ data all may become clearer.

But the biggest development in measurement this week was from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. After a decade, Nielsen has lost the contract. Instead, Ipsos will be the new preferred provider.

In Australia Nielsen was once dominant, and arrogant with it. They had the best data, but were hard to deal with - and for media agencies and media owners, expensive too.

Not long after starting Mumbrella, I remember telling somebody that the best thing about being my own boss was being able to choose to miss out on some data just so I didn’t need to deal with Nielsen any more.

The biggest single factor in weakening Nielsen’s hold on the Australian media market was the fading relevance of its AdEx, advertising expenditure product. The arrival of Standard Media Index, which got spending data straight from the media agencies ate Nielsen’s lunch. It was better data too - Nielsen used to guess spend on advertising based on counting ads and multiplying them by ratecard. It couldn’t know the real price. Still, for many years that was better than nothing and it was a useful verification service for the media agencies.

So strong was Nielsen a decade back, that the first IAB tender felt like a certainty, despite there being plenty of other contenders. It didn’t feel like a particularly fair race at the time. Two years later, to the fury of competitors like ComScore, it was renewed without a pitch. It all felt a bit too cosy.

This time, the writing was on the wall. Back in April, IAB declined to endorse Nielsen’s new Digital Media Ratings offering.

The biggest change to the landscape is that Google is phasing out third party cookies on its Chrome browser. It means that audience measurements will be much more reliant on panel data.

When Ipsos begins the contract next year, its panel should be at least 8,000 devices. Note though, that this is devices, not people. Many of those will have multiple devices including phone and laptop. Their media consumption habits will be registered via software sitting on the device.

I had wondered whether there was much point in having a new industry standard for online audience measurement, particularly given that this will be an expensive subscription, likely only affordable to bigger publishers And when ads are bought programatically on a CPM basis, what does it really matter who is number one?

Bur the multi-device, panel approach may help advertisers with campaign planning - at the very least it should help them to de-duplicate audiences.

In theory, it’s not hard to predict the same piece of software picking up the audio signature of radio and TV broadcasts too. Cross platform measurement anybody?

When Think News Brands killed off the news masthead metric EMMA back in April, I’d assumed Ipsos was going to have a hard time of it. But Ipsos now seems to be the measurement company on the rise in Australia. As well as winning the IAB tender, it’s also leading the MOVE project.

There’s never been a better time to be a media measurement nerd.

Time for me to let you get on with your Wednesday. Fingers crossed that today’s GDP number is positive, otherwise we’re officially back in recession.

If you’re interested in more on the evolution of audience measurement in Australia, please do consider purchasing a copy of my book Media Unmade, published by Hardie Grant. It includes the story of how MOVE came about, and explains how Oztam works.

And I’m already starting to work on the next edition of the Unmade newsletter. Now that earnings season is over, I’ll be looking at how our media companies performed.

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Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade