Meet the new radio ratings system. Same as the old one. Or is it?
The radio industry will still be relying on the memories of the public in deciding its ratings. But perhaps this week's changes are a Trojan Horse for more to come
Welcome to Unmade, mostly written on a beautiful Monday at Sisters Beach, Tasmania. We had a couple of whales hanging out in the bay for much of the day. It was my first time seeing them here. Although a little distracting, it was as good a start to the week as they come.
And happy National Quiet Day. As an introvert, I endorse this occasion.
Today’s writing soundtrack: Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.
There are now 1,088 of us on the Unmade train. That’s a growth of 74 per cent in the three weeks since I posted the first edition. Thank you, and please do keep reminding colleagues that they’re welcome to join us.
This week, rather than hitting publish the moment I’ve finished writing, I’ll be experimenting with a regular send time for Unmade. I’m not ready to go daily just yet, but things are certainly speeding up. On days there’s a newsletter, it’ll be 8.10am. There is no real science behind choosing ten minutes past the hour, just an informed guess that most automated posts go out at the top of the hour. And my instinct is that it may suit people to have a piece of analysis to read as they prepare for the day, rather than once it gets hectic.
Please do let me know your preferences to email@example.com. And speaking of letters, as you’ll see at the bottom of this email, I’m publishing my first couple today. I’d like this to be a two-way conversation; hopefully a more thoughtful and less angry one than you’d typically find on a comments board.
What is Radio360?
We kicked off the week with an announcement from the radio industry’s trade association, Commercial Radio Australia.
Accompanied by the graphic you see below, CRA announced a project it called Radio360.
At first glance, it looked like the industry was finally getting itself a 21st century audience ratings system. Look! E-diary! Streaming! Wearable media! How modern.
Until now, the way that audiences are measured had barely changed in decades. Random members of the public get a knock on the door and are asked to keep a diary of what they listen to over the next week or so. This data is then extrapolated to produce the radio ratings which get released for the metro areas eight times a year.
Across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, just over 10,000 people are asked to place stickers in a diary to record their listening every 15 minutes across the week. They get the promise of going in a draw to win $1,000 if they remember to send the diary back in at the end of the week.
The obvious flaw in this system is that human nature being what it is, it’s a reasonable guess that while some listeners will be incredibly diligent, carry their diary with them everywhere they go, and stopping what they’re doing every 15 minutes to peel off another sticker, others will take the more human approach of having a bit of a guess at the end of the week.
Think about your own radio consumption. Can you remember what station you listened to every 15 minutes, last Wednesday? You get the chance of winning $1,000 if you’re willing to take a guess. If you’re wrong, nobody will know.
It’s one reason why station marketing spend seems to correlate with ratings. Those big billboard ads are not so much for getting listeners to listen, as they are for getting diarists to think of them when they’re completing the survey.
The system also now sees 30 per cent of the respondents filling out an online diary, instead of paper. But it’s still a diary, which can be completed at the end of the week.
The system differs from the OzTam TV ratings system which aims to track what is being viewed in realtime to generate the overnight ratings.
So what of yesterday’s announcement? It all sounded pretty grand.
“Australian metropolitan radio ratings will undergo a major evolution in response to the rapid digitisation of audio consumption in Australia, with live streaming data to be integrated into a new multimillion dollar hybrid measurement system.
“The Radio360 system will see the industry transition from paper surveys to the majority use of e-diaries and integrate live streaming data to provide more information on the size and profile of audiences listening across digital platforms.”
The main detail being that, instead of 30 per cent of the people in the sample completing online diaries, the number will be 50 per cent. But they’re still diaries - relying on people having a guess what they were listening to.
There’s a reason why the diary system has remained for so long. Status quo.
Anybody with a say would sensibly nervous about agreeing to a change and seeing their own station numbers fall.
Industry legend has it that the introduction of OzTam TV ratings gave Kerry Packer the excuse he was looking for to boot David Leckie out of Nine, when the network’s viewing plummeted in the new system.
Certainly the switch to decades ago was bad tempered and contentious, with Nine threatening to go legal on OzTam, and all sorts of unpleasantness ensuing.
So the radio diary system has remained even as we approach two decades since other markets began to experiment with electronic people meters to capture what was actually being listened to. Some did it via a hidden signal placed within the broadcast, others by recording snatches of audio and matching it up later.
I remember writing about tech provider GfK’s efforts on this in the UK around 2003.
And this is where the real progress - or the first steps towards it, anyway - are being made.
Around 2000 smart watch meters, from GfK, will be worn to capture data on streaming. This is where the Trojan Horse comes in. Initially, the smart watches will not generate any of the ratings for broadcast radio. But it will be capturing the broadcast listening behaviour too. It means the CRA will be able to compare the data from the watches to that from the diaries, even if it does not release it at first.
If the differences are not too drastic, then I suspect the system will rapidly shift towards the watches. If the fluctuations are bigger, then that will be messy, but once people are aware that the data is there, the pressure to use it will grow.
After two years of holding back the tide, it’s finally coming in.
Introducing Dr Spin: Soon
On other matters, back in the day when I edited a magazine about the media in the Middle East, we used to publish a diary column from a mysterious columnist called Dr Spin. His missives used to arrive by falcon, and nobody knew his identity.
I’m glad to say that Dr Spin has been back in touch, and will occasionally be corresponding with Unmade.
I understand that Dr Spin’s first contribution will be coming soon.
More reading: Clickbait wormholes and Foxtel transformed
Marketing Brew, from the people who do the Morning Brew newsletter, has published a provocative exploration of the “made for advertising” sites powered by the likes of Taboola and Outbrain.
“Publishers like CNN, Vox, Huffington Post, and countless others have a hard time saying no to platforms like Taboola, as few want to turn down the revenue. On the other side of this clickbait wormhole is a potential billion dollar industry across the globe, as these sites suck up programmatic ad dollars.”
Yet, by taking the $0.01, the big players are sending audiences to the sites stealing all of their programmatic revenue. But while rivals accept the chumbox cash, there’s no incentive for anyone else to stop. Like all prisoner’s dilemmas, I wonder if there’s a way out.
I’m not going to plug Ben Shepherd’s Substack newsletter The Commercial Experience as further reading in every edition, even though we see the media world in quite a similar way. But yesterday’s piece on Foxtel yesterday isn’t to be missed.
Similarly to Ben, I’m increasingly getting the sense that Foxtel is turning the corner. Binge and Kayo are working, and the new IQ5 box signals a strategy of cutting the cable (and satellite) cord to move to Internet delivery.
Letters: 40 weeks (and 30 years) later
In Sunday’s examination of the coming scheduling battle, I raised the issue of the TV industry’s use of the 40-week ratings year. If you missed it, you can read it below.
We had some responses from the experts.
On the 40-week anachronism:
The 40 week anachronism is a hang-over from the AGB McNair diary days, when getting sample over the Christmas and Easter breaks was very difficult.
When Nielsen won the PeopleMeter contract in 1990 (for a 1991 start) there was the opportunity to have 13 x four-week summaries, but that was a leap too far - despite the fact daily data was available to all subscribers (network, agency and advertiser).
From memory, the underlying reason was that 'summer diaries' had been trialed and reported viewing was down something like 25%. When the first numbers came out it was something like 10% ... that is, a big gain on what was thought to be commonly accepted.
When Nielsen lost the contract and OzTAM was created in 1999 it was basically a 'no-change reporting' for PR when the OzTAM data started to flow in 2000. IMHO ... opportunity missed.
One of the good things is that VOZ reports nationally now. Probably as a result of the relaxation of media reach rules, so FINALLY people can see the fuller story.
John Grono, Owner, GAP Research
On media history:
The 40 week Official Survey calendar has nothing to do with Media Agencies, nor Upfronts. It precedes them, by some years.
Ian Muir (legendary Media Research boss of McNair Anderson) wrote a book about Media Research Measurement, maybe 20 years ago. It gives a great insight into the History and Politics of TV Measurement. I can certainly outline much of the history from an Agency and Media Agency perspective.
Steve Allen, Director of strategy & research, Pearman
On why the calendar is still published by OzTam:
A quick clarification on the TV ratings year. OzTAM sets no official in- or out-of ratings period. The old 40-week survey calendar was based on diary sweeps in the days before people meters were introduced.
OzTAM provides minute-by-minute viewing data 24/7/365 so that clients may analyse any time band they wish, regardless of where it falls in the calendar. Every minute counts towards official OzTAM ratings.
This is addressed in the OzTAM website FAQs: https://oztam.com.au/FAQs.aspx . The shaded summer and Easter weeks on the survey calendar posted to OzTAM's website are a convenience to subscribers who still trade on that basis.
Doug Peiffer - CEO, OzTAM
Thanks, John, Steve and Doug for all of those points. And Steve - I agree with you regarding the usefulness of Ian Muir’s memoir, Media Matters (published 2013). His explanation of the origins of the MOVE outdoor audience measurement system was a key source in my own book Media Unmade.
I received my copy at the launch event of MOVE, as it happens. I haven’t seen the book on sale since, so I hold on to my copy tightly.
And Doug, of course you’re correct that OzTam provides data all day and every day. But where the cognitive dissonance kicks in is the fact that your three owners - Seven, Nine and Ten - are still guided by the 40 weeks when it comes to talking about annual performance.
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Have a great Tuesday.
Proprietor - Unmade