MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Behind the radio audience measurement fracas

MacKenzie aside, the radio industry is happy to wait for system testing.

Radio audience research has never been so exciting. Well, exciting might be pushing it a bit but at least Kelvin MacKenzie's constant baiting of the research body Rajar is providing some colour in an otherwise dusty corner of the industry.

MacKenzie, the chief executive of talkSPORT's owner, The Wireless Group, wants Rajar to shelve its diary-based system of audience research in favour of a brand-spanking new electronic service called Radiocontrol that involves a panel of listeners wearing rather unattractive wristwatches that record everything that reaches their ears.

TalkSPORT likes this system - which is run on its behalf by the research company Gfk - because it shows that the station's audience is 6.2 million, four million more than Rajar would have it.

MacKenzie claims Rajar, which is to embark next summer on a second test of the Radiocontrol system, alongside its rival pager-based system, Arbitron, is dragging its heels and costing him money in lost ad revenue.

But are these electronic systems as good as MacKenzie makes them sound or just an expensive means for him to get more money out of advertisers?

You might expect Phil Riley, the chief executive of Chrysalis Radio, to support MacKenzie given that the Gfk research has his London Heart station moving ahead of Capital. But he's firmly in support of continued testing of the systems. "There's no doubt we'd all like a proper, reliable, robust electronic measurement system. We aren't there yet. I don't think the proponents have a leg to stand on when they say they are more reliable than Rajar," he says.

So what are the problems? Reliability for a start. While data from Rajar's panel (30,000 adults fill in a diary every quarter) returns relatively consistent results, the critics of electronic measurement argue that the results from tests of the Arbitron and Radiocontrol systems are "all over the place".

The results from Rajar's test showed huge differences between the two systems of up to 600 per cent on individual stations. And there was an overall difference of a third in terms of hours listened. Critics argue in favour of more testing to determine which, if either, system is the accurate one.

Another barrier could be the cost. Rajar has poured £1 million into testing the systems because electronic measurement would cost between three and four times more to run than its current diary system. Estimates suggest that either one would cost £10 million to introduce.

But if the barriers of reliability and cost can be removed, then the electronic systems offer a potential way forward.

Justin Sampson, the managing director of the Radio Advertising Bureau, says: "Both devices can measure more than radio. From an advertiser's and agency's perspective, that's what they should be getting excited about.

"They've long wanted a single source to measure people's use of media so there is massive potential for the technology in the long run."

Sampson says that both the Arbitron and Radiocontrol systems can measure use of other media and argues that if the suppliers listen to Rajar's concerns and the tests of the second-generation systems are a success, then there's a chance they will be introduced.

"There is potential to be looking at, by the end of the decade, serious technology that can measure across media."

That, rather than MacKenzie's sales figures, might be of some interest to advertisers.

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content