“It would be safest & most honest, in my opinion, to admit that no one can, with any real certainty, say exactly what the listenership of any radio station in South Africa is.”
If you’re looking for a blurb, from Theunis Pienaar, on the widely publicized issue of online listenership, this would be it.
The implications of this statement, should it hold any truth, is immense.
It would affect the entire media industry.
Especially electronic media.
Which is no longer (for quite some time) just radio & television.
If you’re interested in how I have come to this (the blurb) observation, here are my thoughts.
They are not isolated from the broader issue of media consumption as, in my opinion, the issue of online listenership cannot be regarded separately from the issue of media consumption.
In South Africa the South African Advertising Research Foundation has been the authoritative voice on media consumption for the greater part of almost four decades.
By their own admission they have as ‘main objective (is) to direct and publish media audience and product/brand research … thereby providing data for target marketing and a common currency for the buying and selling of media space and time.’
The term ‘common currency’ is very interesting.
It really summarizes what it is all about.
The media industry is largely funded by revenue generated through the sale of advertising space.
Advertisers want to know ‘who’ and ‘how many’ they will reach through an advertisement & spend advertising budgets based on this information.
SAARF claims to provide that ‘currency’.
Money is what it comes down too.
How much is spent & where.
Decided, based on information provided by SAARF.
When electronic media in South Africa was exclusively state-owned & television was just making its appearance in our world.
It is quite the position of power to obtain.
And uncontested too.
For 37 years, this year.
It could even perhaps be counter-productive in a competitive sense.
Without any other source of information to measure it against or challenge published figures, such an organization could potentially even grow into the ‘decider of livelihoods & futures’.
It could become almost ‘Biblical’.
If there were to be no measurement of media consumption, another way would have to be found, to decide about ‘the buying and selling of media space and time.’
Is that even conceivable?
Perhaps, based on the integrity of a product?
Or on the actual response solicited when utilizing it as a medium of communication?
Or maybe the social impact a station has on its environment, the change it affects?
Since 1975 electronic media has changed quite a bit.
From Public Radio only, we moved to the new medium of Television, radio having to re-invent itself as television takes on many of its functions.
Then came Commercial Radio & some time later commercial Television.
Later still community radio, with community television on its heels.
And then online media. The internet. Websites. Social media. Tablets. Smartphones. YouTube. Streaming and its child online radio.
It would be safe to say, the industry measured by SAARF in 1975 and the industry which needs to be measured in 2012 are two completely different animals.
With very broad-casting slowly but surely giving way to niche-casting.
A single television channel in the seventies.
Hundreds of television channels in 2012.
I often wonder if SAARF’s research methodology and/or sample or even sample composition or size is completely different as well, in 2012, in order to keep up with the entirely changed environment & industry it claims to accurately measure.
What needs to be remembered and is not often said too loudly, is that SAARF does research.
This is their ‘escape clause’.
Research implies that a sample of society is consulted & based on that sample’s response a reality is projected.
If you are the only one projecting a reality, and you do it long enough, unchallenged, say longer than three decades, what you proclaim becomes reality.
Not an accusation or a fact.
Just an observation.
Then online radio makes its appearance.
Very boldly, with ‘big names’ transitioning into it & claiming their piece of the available advertising budget.
Which speaks of bottom-lines.
Amidst a market under severe economic pressure & uncertainty.
With the promise of empirically measured, up-to-date information.
Which suddenly provides another kind of sample.
From an independent, or at least ‘other’, source.
Providing a mirror in which published figures could be viewed & considered – or a counter weight against which, for the first time, published figures could be weighed.
And perhaps even be rejected.
Unless this source is discredited.
In which case the integrity of the only publisher of media consumption data will be unchallenged, in tact & it could be business as usual.
I’m not saying off course, that this is the case, or making any allegations against any organization, agency, company, foundation and/or entity.
I’m merely considering possibilities & making observations in an environment in which one organization has held the monopoly on consumption information for such a long period of time, that no one even considers that there may be other sources of information of equal and/or greater value.
Or that what is available, may not necessarily be accurate.
I mean, since 1975 the Berlin Wall has come crashing down, Apartheid has given way to a new Democracy & the once powerful USSR has disintegrated, America has lost its economic power & China of all countries has stepped onto the global scene as the savior of the world’s economy.
Who would’ve thought, in 1975, that China would bail out America.
SAARF does research.
What they publish are not facts, but research results.
What they publish is a projected estimate, not an empirical figure.
And there is nothing with which to weigh the results which they publish.
Now, since it has been so eloquently discredited, not even online listenership figures.
Perhaps, somewhere in the future, as online radio grows & media continues to migrate into niche-casting & narrow-publishing, this will become an effective counter balance.
Since it is easy to discredit information.
And even if not discredited, this information also runs the risk of falling into a single organization’s hands who will disseminate it, unchallenged.
That would not be very free-market.
Which I imagine might be a problem for some, as it could breed an unhealthy situation and an imbalance of power.
Information is so fickle.
Even if a radio station asked each and every single one of its listeners to register with the station, effectively doing a manual ‘head-count’, it could be discredited by questioning what incentivized people to register themselves and what constitutes a listener.
There are indeed many ways to skin a cat.
While on the topic of information being questioned – questioning the motives of NetDynamix came into play in the debate, and so the question should also be asked: ‘who effectively pays the bill, once you decipher all the acronyms, for the research done by SAARF & what is the correlation between the biggest contributors to this bill & the biggest attributed market share?
Just a question.
And I don’t know the answer.
I do know commercial radio is attributed large audiences & generates large revenues.
Which makes sense, since advertising buyers would spend based on information supplied by the only source of information in this regard.
Which is really a very good business model.
When it comes to community radio, where I find myself, SAARF boldly publishes figures, adding a discreet asterisk (or two) indicating that the published figure constitutes ‘unstable’ or even ‘highly unstable’ data, due to small sample sizes.
I would think that this is irresponsible?
I’ve been saying that for a while now.
Would it not be more responsible, when sample sizes are too small, to generate stable data, not to publish that data, rather than creating an impression or ‘currency’ anyway?
If you are the only purveyor of media consumption data, with the honest intent of ‘providing data for target marketing and a common currency for the buying and selling of media space’, I at least would think so.
Again, just an observation & most definately not an accusation, as I would not want to find myself with a bruised face & bloodied nose on the playground – I am only a freshman, after all.
I do know this: I would not feel comfortable selling a box if I did not know what was inside, or knew it was empty.
I would find it difficult to get past my conscience.
But that is just me.
I understanding that not publishing data for a segment of media being consumed, would erode your position as the only purveyor of media consumption data.
Which seems not to be a possibility in the near future, as there are no contenders for this title.
It is interesting to note that Kingfisher FM, an insignificant community radio station, is mentioned by Mr Dewberry, alongside the country’s two largest online radio stations, when challenging the reliability of figures provided by NetDynamix to its clients.
While online broadcasting is just one portal, almost an add-on, to Kingfisher FM’s product offering.
And Kingfsher FM is one of 73 other clients, served by NetDynamix.
Surely there are even community radio stations for whom a larger online-audience was indicated?
I can’t quite make sense of that.
Why Kingfisher FM?
I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but it did draw my attention.
What also drew my attention was the way in which NetDynamix’s integrity or motive was questioned in this process, as if they stood to gain anything by providing falsified or inflated listenership figures to their clients?
We pay NetDynamix a flat rate.
It is pretty cheap actually.
I still don’t get how ‘motive’ could discredit, yet it seems to have done the trick.
Apparently we find ourselves in a very distrusting environment.
I wonder, if I were to be the only purveyor of media consumption data in this country, how important it would be to me, to sow doubt & distrust, in order to feed my position as a trusted source?
Also interesting to note: to my knowledge & understanding, nowhere has it been ‘proven’ that figures provided by NetDynamix is false.
It was stated that all information is not on the table.
It was also suggested that the problems is that a standard does not exist & hence no conclusive conclusion could be made, which would be widely accepted.
But Ballz Vizual Radio is walking away from NetDynamix.
That certainly discredits.
And perhaps others are walking away too.
As if NetDynamix had any malicious intent & has already been proven to provide false figures for online listenership.
In that respect Kingfisher FM would not want to be mentioned in the same sentence as the country’s two biggest online radio stations.
Or are they that still?
I don’t know.
For no one can accurately say.
Except perhaps SAARF, who publishes ‘comprehensive’, ‘unbiased’ & ‘reliable’ information.
Or rather research information, which is a projection from a sample onto a whole and not fact.
For 37 years.
Regardless of if they still are the big boys, Kingfisher FM will not want to be mentioned alongside them as yet another one who has walked away from NetDynamix.
NetDynamix has provided our station with an exceptional streaming platform & quality service, for which we have been thanked repeatedly by some of the however many individuals who do utilize this service.
We have no reason to walk away from them or doubt their intention.
In fact, considering everything we invested into Kingfisher FM, it makes sense to us that we would have a growing online audience.
Our product has grown in quality and content.
Our product is extremely well defined, catering for a very specific niche-market.
We are doing extensive advertising.
Running forty television advertisements per month on national television.
Do you know of another radio station that does TV-advertising?
Alongside television advertising Kingfisher FM is also utilizing print advertising, outdoor advertising & online advertising.
To a larger extent than ever before.
Perhaps SAARF’s published figures on Kingfisher FM’s listenership (certainly if they were a reflection of reality) is a reflection on the media we chose to utilize to advertise our service?
SAARF indicates that our listenership insignificant.
It could be anything between 16000 listeners & 44 000 listeners, they say.
Quite a margin of error?
You see, the data is unstable.
Actually, highly unstable.
Yet advertising agencies & competitors rely on it.
It is ‘currency’.
And so we settle for this: we have no idea how many people listen to Kingfisher FM.
We know what SAARF publishes.
We know what NetDynamix reports in terms of sessions.
But our listenership is most definitely not insignificant.
For we do know, whether it be 10 people (it is at least ten, since my family has 5 members and my in-laws listen too and so do 3 of my friends, or so they say, that is if our 3 month old Maddi would qualify as a listener) or 10 000 or 100 000 people who regularly tune to Kingfisher FM – these people did come alongside 10 families in Walmer whose homes were burnt to the ground one Sunday morning. Providing them with more than what they needed to begin again. And they came alongside Quest School, helping this special needs school continue operating, when they had nowhere else to turn. And the SANBS, as well as Animal Welfare. They did change the world of a single quadriplegic man who was almost lost in despair & they changed the world of the people of Soweto-on-Sea, when they had nowhere to turn with lacking service delivery.
That is not insignificant.
And so we would be delighted if the creator of ‘currency’ would at least stop publishing unstable & highly unstable data about media consumption in our country.
And we would be elated if a challenger emerges, also providing media consumption data, which could serve as counterweight, creating a more competitive environment.
Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with admitting there are too many holes in the system & doing anything more than guesstimating ‘who’ and ‘how many’ of them are listening to our radio station, would just be irresponsible.
Perhaps one day an environment will emerge in which Goliath will not always win?