Assessing the State of Radio and Audience Measurement

David Bray is President of Bray & Partners Communications.

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With 2020 we began to see some trends clearly. As the new year rolls over, some things become clearer still. Of course, last year as a whole was troubling for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were the effects of a crippling pandemic. What does this mean for those of us working in media? Now seems like a good time to assess the current state of radio and radio measurement in Canada.

First, we lost the Fall 2020 book for diary markets. Buyers and sellers had to rely on a problematic Spring 2020 book for selling well into 2021. To recap, that Spring release included 12 weeks of sample from last Fall 2019 (6 measurement weeks) and 8 weeks of new sample for a total of 20 weeks of sample. The remaining four weeks consisted of diaries from the previous Radio Diary release (either Spring 2019 or Fall 2018) as needed. The lack of timely data presents obvious problems

In addition, the Fall RTS release was effectively cancelled given that there was no specific market data included.  Once again, I inquired as to whether Numeris members would be granted refunds or discounted fees to account for what they will not receive.

Next came the announcement that, starting with Spring 2021 the number of measured diary markets would be reduced to 22, leaving scores of important markets out in the cold. The survivors include St. John’s, Halifax, Moncton, Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Barrie, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, London, Ottawa-Gatineau, St. Catharines-Niagara, Sudbury, Windsor, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, and Victoria.

The rationale for which markets to keep will continue to be debated. For the most part these are the largest markets in terms of population. It is noteworthy that some of these (e.g., Windsor and Hamilton) are spill markets, with the majority of tuning going to out of market stations which won’t be reported. As to the orphan markets, Radio Connects is spearheading an initiative examining alternative measurement options. The three companies that have submitted potential measurement solutions are Xtra Insights from Australia, in addition to Canadian firms Microtherapy and StatsRadio. The pertinent questions have to do with who will pay for it and can it be integrated into current software like Radius? Also pertinent is how Numeris will account for much reduced services? Lastly, what effect will all of these changes ultimately have on radio revenue?

It was recently announced that Numeris will no long utilize diary methodology for TV. Given that this, in part, helped to subsidize the diary component of radio, what will the financial implications be?

Since March 2020, radio revenue overall has taken a body blow from COVID. Year-over-year revenues are down approximately 30% to 40% across the country. Sales reps, many having to work from home, have their hands tied behind their backs. It should be noted to their credit that some of the radio divisions of firms like Corus, Bell and Rogers supported them with up to 75% of the previous year’s commissions for an extended period. Still, anyone who reads the news knows of substantial layoffs across the board. The bloodshed is daunting. The loss of friends and colleagues disturbing. I can’t pretend to know what the future holds. What effect will all of this turmoil in the area of measurement have on the medium?

We have a situation whereby a number of mid-sized markets might have to sell by occasion without a currency to indicate audience value. A significant step backward.

These are but a few of the current issues which merit attention. In a future article, I will discuss PPM market limited sample sizes and the resulting data which seems to invite questions. The exploration of Digital Audio Measurement.

I have had the honour and privilege of serving on many BBM committees over the years. I have great fondness and respect for the history of BBM/Numeris and some of the fine people who have worked there. For the first time, we have outside suppliers vying to supplant services previously performed by Numeris. Something which might have seemed inconceivable not long ago.

What does that say about the future? At a minimum, we continue to confront issues and problems that could threaten the radio medium so close to our hearts.