Sampson: despite a wave of changes over three decades, the benefits of a joint industry approach remain
Sampson: despite a wave of changes over three decades, the benefits of a joint industry approach remain
A view from MediaWeek at 30

Thirty years of metrics

Justin Sampson looks back at the modern history of audience measurement and examines how it can inform future practice

In April 1985, I was working at Telecom Telemarketing, a subsidiary of the state-owned BT.

I used to sell the first generation of briefcase-sized mobile phones. Back then, only two of the current audience measurement currencies existed: Barb, for TV, and the National Readership Survey, for newspapers and magazines.

To know who was watching what at the cinema, you would look at Caviar numbers, while OSCAR provided the trading currency for outdoor. For radio listening, you could have consulted either commercial radio’s JICRAR or the BBC’s daily survey, while regional newspapers relied on the ABC.

What would also be clear is how reliant the industry was on joint industry measurement. There was strong support for the concept of an independently produced, gold-standard measurement, while advertising agencies and media owners conducted little audience research compared with today.
Events in media audience measurement carry a number of lessons (see box, right).

What’s next?

Some prophesy that all advertising will be traded programmatically and that addressable advertising will take over. Yet this overlooks truths about human needs. Consumers will still want to indulge in shared media experiences and advertisers will want their brands to be famous beyond a core target market.

Advertisers will also still want to know who is seeing their ads. Can machine data ever deliver this in a comprehensive and representative way? It’s highly unlikely. The future will require an understanding that comes from hybrid research systems that draw on device-based data and established forms of audience research. Project Dovetail is Barb’s strategy for delivering such a service.

We’re also heading to a future where audience research is not simply providing a trusted trading currency. Services such as Barb have to provide data in a market where media buyers and sellers are finding imaginative ways to trade. JICs have to strike the right balance between providing comprehensive measurement that reflects agreed trading standards and standard planning data that can be used as buyers and sellers trade in bespoke ways.

So what about the internet, which only existed for a privileged few in 1985? Will it still have a standalone measurement system or will it be integrated into more established currencies? To an extent, this depends on the attitudes of international companies that are prominent in this space. US companies have been traditionally reluctant to embrace a joint industry approach.

Equally, the answer is dependent on how the established JICs measure audiences through the internet platform. Barb expects to be reporting online television audiences in the very near future, while other JICs have also made progress in this area. One school of thought is that we will end up with three principal audience measurement systems (watching, listening and reading) with IPA TouchPoints linking the silos.

The future for JIC can’t be taken for granted as media agencies and media owners continue to invest in their own proprietary data. One constant is each data set represents the values of the people compiling it. In that sense, JICs are an expression of collective values of media buyers and represent an important step away from proprietary data. This is imperative for cultivating a trusted currency.

Justin Sampson is the chief executive of Barb

What we have Learnt

1. One currency is better than two. In the same way that there is only one Bank of England to support and manage a stable trading currency, so it is better for a medium to have one agreed measurement. The radio industry realised this and came together in 1992 to launch Rajar. This proved to be one catalyst for the medium’s surge of popularity among advertisers and agencies across the 90s.

2. Creating cross-media data-collection standards is difficult. Finding out how people consume static, print-based media is a fundamentally different research challenge to measuring linear, broadcast media. Some have dreamed of a pan-media JIC, although this dream has receded with the successful development of IPA TouchPoints across the past ten years.

3. Audience measurement systems need to be about people. Many years ago, TV was traded on household ratings, although this quickly gave way to demographic-based TVRs. Advertisers want to know who is seeing their communications and are not satisfied to know that a device is receiving their content. Ongoing development is also critical. People are watching, listening and reading their favourite content in increasingly
varied ways, so it is vital that investment funds are available for audience measurement to keep pace with these changes.