Delivery time makes it hard to get excited aboutRajar revamp

Radio audience measurement is frustrating for both radio companies and advertisers. Scott Taunton, the chief executive of talkSPORT's owner, UTV Radio, summed up the problem with Rajar in an interview with Campaign last week: "We're still trading off data for the previous quarter, but if I want figures for a TV audience, I can go online and access a system that presents viewing for Big Brother from the night before."

Despite this time-lag, Taunton and his equivalents at other radio companies stand firmly behind Rajar. Mainly, it has to be said, because it's the only trading currency they've got.

This week, Rajar announced details of its latest attempt to drag radio audience measurement kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. An enhanced diary-based system will be created, and the testing of electronic measurement will continue in partnership with the TV sector's Barb.

You can almost hear Taunton's predecessor at talkSPORT, Kelvin MacKenzie, turning in his golf buggy.

MacKenzie, lest we forget, consistently attacked Rajar, often in colourful language, for sticking to its diary-based system and for its perceived slowness in introducing electronic measurement.

Rajar's latest announcement involves a commitment of an extra £3 million over the next two years, which includes support for an electronic measurement test with Barb. The problem for Rajar is that it pledged in its "roadmap for change" document, issued in September 2004, that a fully operational electronic measurement system would "go live" in January 2007.

Yet now electronic measurement seems about as live as MacKenzie's radio career. With a new two-year contract awarded to Ipsos Mori to run the improved diary system, a fully "live" electronic system isn't on the cards until 2009. Too late for those who believe that, despite glitches with some of the wristwatch technology being tested, Rajar could have pushed through change more quickly.

However, cost is a big factor, with electronic measurement said to cost radio companies up to £7 million more than the current system. And, in case you hadn't noticed, times are hard in radio at the moment.

The most encouraging news in the Rajar announcement is that it will finally take account of listening via different platforms - with figures broken down by analogue, DAB, digital TV and internet. Welcome news for media owners and advertisers looking for more detailed insight into radio.

However, the main problem remains the speed of data delivery. The improved diary system will deliver data up to two weeks faster, but media owners and advertisers must still wait several months for audience figures. Until this changes, it's hard to get too excited about Rajar's new developments.

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