What we need to develop the media research of our age

The substantive part of audience research was developed in the sixties with television in mind. This was despite the fact that TV did not reach everyone, but mainly because it had potential to be universal, and it also had greater impact on communications than any other media of the time. 

The initial media research was developed before the modern advertising agency and it was created to advise broadcasters about the content that generated the highest interest among their viewers. This allowed them to deliver attractive programming schedules to keep audiences glued to the screen and increase the appeal and growth of the medium across the globe.

Perhaps we can derive lessons from this history as we advance audience research systems in Kenya. Kenya Audience Research Foundation (KARF) is responsible for the media research in the country and they are currently devising a system that will be robust enough to take us into the future, providing insights to the media and marketing communication sectors through sound methodology at an affordable price.

It is true that the bulk of advertising budgets today are applied in the traditional media — TV, radio and print. However, the new kid on the block, the internet, is making such headway that it can’t be ignored or considered as an afterthought as we develop research methodology. Rupert Murdoch referred to the new millennials as digital natives who have never known a world without ubiquitous broadband internet connections, and he was right.

Therefore as well look to the future and determine what kind of audience measurement system will take us there, it is no doubt that it must be led by the media that has the biggest impact on society today and has the potential to be universal. This in no way suggests that traditional media should be ignored, but it means that it is critical that the resulting data collection methodology is inclusive and has the ability provide comprehensive data across the board.

Between the two major types of survey techniques, declarative and passive, technology advancements dictate that it should be the latter that we should chose. Declarative responses are those where questions are posed to the respondents to which they state answers that they believe to be true. Passive measurement on the other hand draws its data from usage habits of the respondents without their intervention and it is considered the more accurate of the two.

It also means that we should reconsider the single-source data collection methodology which worked well with PAPI (paper and pen interviews) or CATI (computer aided telephonic interviews) and other forms of declarative survey methodology that are popular. Internet usage surveys need a cookie based system that sit on the respondents multiple devices, TV surveys require the return path systems that are able to determine which household members are watching, radio systems require audio matching technology to cover all the stations the people are exposed to, and print and outdoor require their own systems too.

All these systems require a considerable investment, whether we buy systems off the shelf and adapt them to local conditions, or develop our own home grown system through the universities and IT hubs in the country. The good news however is that as time goes by, the cost of technology is dropping and thus making the plans more affordable.


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