Katherine Levy: NRS's fusion project shows news brands are very much alive
A view from Katherine Levy

Katherine Levy: NRS's fusion project shows news brands are very much alive

The National Readership Survey's long-awaited "Project Fusion", which measures a newspaper brand's total audience reach across print and online, comes to life on Monday (10 September). While the project has been something of a laborious task for the NRS, it will surely pay off given that agencies are as eager to engage with the figures as a pack of bloodhounds.

The initiative has been named NRS PADD (the "PADD" stands for print and digital data). The figures are calculated by fusing the readership estimates of the NRS with the UKOM/Nielsen estimates of audience figures for newspaper websites. The result is a brand reach across print and web that the NRS chief executive, Mike Ironside, believes is as close to accurate as you can currently get.

This is because NRS PADD aims to de-duplicate those who access, say, The Guardian online and who also buy the printed product. De-duplication is the biggest concern when it comes to any fusion of two different data sets. The method by which NRS PADD arrives at de-duplication is through matching respondents from Nielsen with respondents from the NRS based on shared characteristics - so a 30-year-old female living in London who is a heavy internet user in the Nielsen data will be matched with an NRS respondent with similar attributes.

NRS PADD is timely given the recent rebranding of the Newspaper Marketing Agency to Newsworks and news brands such as the Financial Times, the Mail and The Guardian reporting more digital readers than print buyers. But what will the first iteration of NRS PADD tell us?

Ironside says that, overall, the research shows a significant audience increase in what we are currently attributing to news brands. This means a lot of people who we thought had slipped away from engaging with news brands have not - they've just moved online. While it has simply confirmed what we already suspected, the industry can only, after all, trade effectively with hard numbers.

The research, as it stands, is not platform-holistic. The NRS says it is keen to include mobile and tablet reach in the survey as soon as is feasible but, for this, it requires sophisticated audience data for devices that it doesn't expect to become available for at least months, if not years.

While the method and scope of the research are not perfect, it is the closest we have got to getting the full picture of how many people - and what type of people - are engaging with which news brands and where. Following attempts by The Guardian and News International to produce their own "snapshot" figures to sell into agencies, clients will no doubt be reassured by an industry-agreed metric of measuring all news brands by the same stick.