The way we rate our media just doesn't measure up

If you are fed up with reading about how nothing stays the same, then take a seat, get out your comfy slippers and enter the world of media research, where millions of pounds are spent and much stays the same.

Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at MediaCom
Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at MediaCom

It didn't always seem as though this would be the case. In 2003, a new dawn for media research seemed imminent, with talk of a US technology that could pick up transmissions of ads from media such as TV, radio and posters to deliver a net rating.

Add RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in supermarkets, and single-source information was in sight. We'd conclusively know how media drives people into a shop to buy a product, and the passive system would eliminate human error.

And in 2005, news broke of Project Apollo, a system designed to collect and connect multimedia message exposure, brand recognition and preference, and actual purchase behaviour. Surely this would revolutionise media planning and buying?

However, in February, Project Apollo was aborted. So, rather than making progress, we may be going backwards. In April, Rajar withdrew from its electronic portable people-meter experiment, committing instead to a pilot of a web-based diary system. Postar is also reviewing its data capture methodology, but has so far rejected RFID in the short term as too unproven.

Online media has a choice of at least two very different ways of measuring audiences (outside of click-through data), which must spice up negotiations no end. Meanwhile, TV and press are clearly not compatible in their audience measurement systems, either in sizes of panel or how ratings are defined.

It is left to IPA TouchPoints to try to pull together all the diverse sources of audience measurement by giving a snapshot of data that other research sources can relate to.

A serious industry overhaul of the way we measure media audiences is long overdue. Despite technological advances in how we communicate, there seems to be a lack of energy or enthusiasm for making contradictory measurement systems compatible.

As media channel planning gets more sophisticated, as the ways of reaching the consumer become more technologically advanced, it is time that we brought media audience research, and therefore media trading currency, into the 21st Century.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom

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