Media: A moment with Marquis

The Internet Advertising Bureau is hooking up with the National Readership Survey for its first move towards a media planning currency. At first sight, this looks a bit like Nasa asking Henry Ford for help with a mission to Mars. It can't possibly be.

One of the several things that keeps me in gainful employment, I should make clear, is the chairmanship of the NRS, so what follows may not be without bias, though that will be tempered, one hopes, with a dollop of objectivity.

The NRS, which turns a sprightly 50 this year, comes in for its fair share of flak: too slow, too inflexible, too unsexy, some say.

Like all the JIC research currencies, the NRS has an awful lot riding on it - in its case, the £2 billion ad-vertising fortunes of national newspapers and magazines. Every change in readership estimates can be worth millions of pounds. Something as pivotal as the NRS is bound to attract its fair share of criticism.

To be fair, the NRS deserves quite a lot of it. It is cumbersome. Its wheels grind exceedingly slowly. Its radar is not permitted to pick up the readership signals from say, a new London freesheet newspaper, because its sample size rules won't allow it. It doesn't probe the quality of reading as much as the market would like. Its interview response rate is gradually declining. All of which is very frustrating.

Why, then, should the NRS - of all the creaking Leviathans - be chosen by the hotter-than-hot internet world for its first tranche of industry figures?

Because, when all is said and done, the NRS remains a gold standard. Its foundations (36,000 people are interviewed annually) are as rock-solid as these things can be.

It may be moaned about, but it is trusted. It is credible. And that is precisely what internet people need - establishment figures on which to build the edifice of internet usage patterns that the market will accept.

In spite of its explosive growth, the internet wants its share of brand advertising and this move to a planning currency, they believe, will help towards achieving that goal.

So this isn't as crazy as it might appear. The NRS, whatever its shortcomings, is reliable, and reliability is key to the internet's measurement requirements. The irony is that the NRS, mindful of its own need to modernise and future-proof itself, has been seriously considering the internet as part or even all of the answer to its future methodology challenges. Who knows where all this will lead? Mars, perhaps, with Henry Ford at the controls.

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