In the worlds of broadcast and print media, audience figures matter. Their impact on advertising revenues, share price and, from a PR point of view, campaign evaluation should not be underestimated.
However, the validity of these figures has long been debated and recent stats released by Broadcasters Audience Research Board (Barb) have once again thrown the issue into sharp focus.
Let’s consider London Live, the capital’s new TV channel launched with a great fanfare at the end of March. Barb’s figures show that on eight separate occasions, the channel’s breakfast show, Wake Up London, which runs from 6am to 9am on weekdays, broadcast for one full hour to no measurable audience.
Have Londoners turned their back on London Live? Not so. There have long been concerns about the industry-agreed management system. Consider this: Barb uses a panel of 5000 TV-owning households which seeks to be representative through sample audiences weighted according to age and ethnicity. Therefore, when drilling down to an audience for a specific local area, the numbers are bound to be small. This problem is only compounded when the TV outlet is aimed at a particular demographic – 16 to 34 year olds in the case of London Live. This means that Barb can potentially record zero viewership for programmes that in fact attract a healthy audience among their target market.
It’s not only broadcast media that faces this challenge. Many newspaper and magazine titles risk being attributed with unrepresentative figures because audience measurement systems are failing to keep pace with the demands of digital developments. Some systems take into account only printed copies, not content accessed via desktop, table or smartphone.
Given that many people are now consuming media digitally via a variety of devices, surely a system needs to be in place to evaluate and do justice to the growing number of readers who prefer to read in digital rather than in print?
Media outlets risk being seriously devalued because truly accurate and representative measurement systems are not in place. There is an immediate need for more sophisticated methodology to be introduced in order to deliver the accurate stats that the media sector – journalists, publishers, advertisers and PRs alike – really require.