Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Rajar Progress Short-Circuited

Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Rajar Progress Short-Circuited

Article excerpt

Potential hitches mean Rajar is dragging its heels on switching to electronic audience measurement.

Last week's news that Rajar will not introduce electronic measurement of radio audiences in 2007 raised few eyebrows in the industry.

Former talkSPORT boss Kelvin MacKenzie's long-running spat with Rajar, culminating in a failed court case, ensured the issue of audience measurement has dominated the headlines.

There are signs that his frustration with the old diary measurement system, and his desire to introduce an electronic alternative immediately, are not shared by the broader industry, which favours a cautious approach.

But MacKenzie's one-man crusade has damaged the credibility of the diary system, undermining radio advertising's trading system.

However, Rajar is refusing to be rushed into change. Instead of a swift transition to an electronic measurement system, it has pledged to improve the existing paper diary system, which was introduced in 1998. In addition, the radio group is investing pounds 3m in research over the next two years, which will include a two-year trial of electronic meters in conjunction with TV measurement body BARB.

With the industry facing declining ad revenues and more competition from media such as online, agencies and radio firms are concerned about introducing an electronic system prematurely.

'The radio market is not as stable as other media and, if there were to be problems with the new system, radio would be one of the first media to come off the schedule,' says Steve Coteman, radio manager at ZenithOptimedia.

Those concerns are echoed by the industry, and investing a reported pounds 12m in an electronic system is not necessarily top of the agenda for cash-strapped radio companies. GCap Media, the UK's biggest commercial radio station, this month revealed a 26% decline in advertising in April and May, after a 50% decline in the January to March period. Analysts do not expect this trend to reverse, despite a bold strategy of slashing advertising at the station.

However, Peter Cory, a director of the Radio Advertising Bureau, says that investment is not the issue, pointing to the fact that commercial radio pays 'considerably more' for its research programmes than other advertising media.

The trouble with maintaining the current paper system is that some agency planners believe its problems are myriad, the biggest being misattribution.

There are varying theories on the impact this has on the market - from falsely giving a bigger share of listening to bigger brands which are front of mind, to consumers not admitting what they listen to. As one buyer explains: 'Personally I wouldn't admit to listening to Johnny Vaughn, and there are probably just as many people saying they are constantly tuned to Radio 4 when in reality they are channel hoppers.'

While the major radio companies have a wide variety of stations, which may offset this brand misattribution, insiders say that companies that have only one radio brand - such as Virgin - are particularly vulnerable.

But, until a new system is introduced, these beliefs have little to back them up.

There is a genuine feeling within the industry that more time is needed to create an accurate and reliable electronic system. Howard Bareham, managing partner for radio at MindShare, says there is no point introducing technology that is not ready just to tick a box - though he adds that not even time might deliver the perfect system. …

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