Summary of the 2014 European Radio & Television Conferences by Richard Marks, Research Director, asi
Last week the great and the good in audience measurement met for the 24th annual asi European Television and Radio Conferences in Madrid. The event is an important barometer for what’s pre-occupying the broadcast research industries.
I’ve attended the event for a decade and earlier this year I came on board as research director for asi with an active involvement in getting this year’s event together and chairing sessions. In this column I’ll share the key take-outs from across the three days.
One clear theme, reflected in the agenda, is that radio and TV face similar measurement challenges in terms of the need for cross-platform brand measurement and the challenges and opportunities of online data sets. To that end, a joint session titled ‘The Tools of the Trade’ saw panels of suppliers and clients compare notes on what they thought really matters.
The radio day focused on the existential challenge of putting radio in the wider context of other audio services, particularly streaming. The RAB’s AudioNow project showed that radio remains strong, but as the Harkive initiative demonstrated, modern listeners “use a range of technologies, formats, and services, and bounce from one to another with incredible speed and dexterity.”
A central point of debate for both TV and radio is whether the behaviour of 15-24 year olds – amongst whom both TV and radio are seeing more noticeable drops in usage – is a usage pattern that they will carry with them through their lives or something they will adapt as they get older.
Using RAJAR data, IPSOS’s John Carroll pointed out that “By the age of 25 you’ve listened to 10% of the radio you’ll hear in your lifetime”. A lot is riding on whether this statement is true for both the radio and TV industries.
What I do and like now as a 50 year old is very different to when I was 25, but if I were to tell a passing hoodie, “You have listened to 5% of all the Bruce Springsteen you’ll hear in your lifetime,” they might claim that free will overcomes pre-destination. Or they might hit me. Danish Radio’s Peter Niegel described this cohort as both Generation Z (Zero attention span) and Generation HD (heads down on mobile devices).
For TV, it really does seem that a consensus has emerged around hybrid measurement – combining survey research with server data to get the best of both worlds. The ‘F’ word – fusion – was everywhere this year.
At last year’s asi I used the metaphor of Schroedinger’s Cat to crystallise some of my concerns about hybrid measurement – that transparency will recede and we may become increasingly dependent on the statisticians, who guard the black boxes that bring the data together, to tell us whether the measurement cat is alive or dead.
This asi conference did go some way to allaying some of the concerns. When I asked the global measurement companies directly whether intellectual property issues would inhibit the transparency of their services, they seemed almost insulted at the idea and described a harmonious world of openness with clients and talked about glass boxes as opposed to black boxes. This is important as Tanja Hackenbruch of Swiss Broadcaster SBC called for the establishment of an open ‘data culture’ to help clients understand the plethora of data sets available.
Two nagging questions remain – if we had a blank slate, is this really what we would do? And is anyone doing hybrid successfully yet?
With regard to the second point, it seems we have a big year coming up. In Holland the VIM (Video Integration Model) is underway, whilst BARB have commissioned two measurement companies to take place in a ‘Great British Fuse Off’ to develop an integration model for Project Dovetail. We are getting tantalisingly close to knowing whether the hybrid theories will work in practice.
Dissenting views or proponents of single source solutions were hard to find, although there were some fascinating early insights from the Google/Médiamétrie single source panel in France. Early days, but the French data hinted that the incidence of dual screening may be overstated. From that survey, in an average day, 16.4% of panel members did watch TV and use the Internet simultaneously, but only for six minutes.
Continuing the theme of surprisingly low numbers, BARB shared early data from the growing number of BARB homes (currently over 1,000) that have PC viewing metered as well as TV. 10% watch TV content on PCs in an average week and if they do watch it’s about 25 minutes a week – so that adds less than 1% to total viewing. OK, this doesn’t include tablets or mobiles, but even if we look at BBC iStats the thought occurs that this seems an awful lot of effort to measure not very much.
Toby Syfret of Enders Analysis projected that still 77% of all viewing in 2020 will be live viewing on TV sets. Perhaps online video has now found its natural level. Clearly usage will be heavily skewed to young adults, but it does raise the issue of exactly what is ‘television’.
Verto Analytics clearly envisage a wider video world in which we can advertise in and measure Angry Birds and Grand Theft Auto, whilst a number of speakers showed ethnographic research about the central and addictive role of smartphones in people’s lives.
So the thought occurs: if we can break the measurement challenge of gathering video and audio usage from these devices, do we just limit ourselves to linear or recently broadcast content, or measure the wider world of all content?
Some existential angst lies ahead. According to data shown by Facebook, 40% of us now sometimes start an activity on one device and finish it on another, amplifying the need for true cross-platform reach data.
The barriers between platforms and media are coming down, which was reflected in a stand-out paper from Bas De Vos of SKO in the Netherlands. The existing TV, radio, print and online currencies have taken a highly logical step – to stay separate but fund all new online research jointly to avoid duplication of effort.
So instead of different industry bodies attempting to get on your tablet or smartphone they go in as one and share the data back out afterwards. To foster co-operation the JICs in Holland have literally moved into the same ‘Media House’.
This is the country that gave us Big Brother so perhaps a reality show is in the offing. I have always found the idea of a ‘Super JIC’ measuring all media unlikely, both politically and operationally, but this Dutch model does seem the next logical step. I wonder what leasehold agreements BARB, RAJAR and NRS all have.
The Tony Twyman Award
Since his retirement, the asi Television Conference has featured the Tony Twyman Award for best paper, but the award took on a new meaning this year, with the news of Tony’s recent passing overshadowing the conference. The 2014 Award was won by the BBC’s Margo Swadley, with a paper that focused on how viewers make the choices they do and navigate their way through the world of EPG, VOD and PVR.
Tony Twyman had a very well developed bullshit detector, so it seemed fitting that our keynote was delivered by Bob Hoffman aka ‘the Ad Contrarian‘, who in 30 minutes eviscerated the online advertising industry armed only with his trusty sword of expletives. As @bakelwarden put it on Twitter: “Bob Hoffman’s spot-on take on the ad industry just passed the sh*t-wordcount of an average Breaking Bad episode. Go Ad-Heisenberg!”
For non Breaking Bad fans, Heisenberg is the alter ego of Walter White in the show, which is appropriate. As I pointed out at the event, I am left wondering whether the Heisenberg Principle may apply to audience measurement. The German physicist stated that there is “…a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle known as complementary variables… can be known simultaneously.”
In audience measurement our ‘complementary variables’ are people and devices. Will a hybrid future allow us to accurately observe both? Stay tuned for future developments.
Click on the button below to download a pdf of the conference programme