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Industry bosses to debate ABC's future

26 Feb 2019  |  David Pidgeon 
Industry bosses to debate ABC's future

This week discussions over the future of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) will be held between publisher trade bodies and the bosses of UK agencies, Mediatel can reveal.

Mediatel understands that some publishers, led by the News Media Association and Newsworks, want to open industry-wide conversations about the use of ABC as a planning and trading currency after the launch of PAMCo last year.

The census-based ABC audits print and online circulation figures and is largely used for trading. Covering 1,200 titles, it also sets industry agreed standards and shows how published media reaches the market, in both print and online.

Meanwhile, PAMCo - which replaced the National Readership Survey in April 2018 - is audience-based and delivers the multi-channel readership of 128 news and magazine brands. It is used much more widely in the planning process at media agencies.

For various reasons no other media uses two different 'currencies', but published media requires the dual system to effectively audit, plan and trade against a set of agreed and trusted standards. Similar systems operate in other markets around the world.

However, with publishers under threat from declining print circulations and increased competition from the likes of Facebook and Google, there are concerns over which currency tells the best and most useful narrative about published media. This has lead to formal discussions - to be held at the Media Futures Group on Thursday - about using both ABC and PAMCo in a manner that could better help the publishers who essentially fund both currencies.

Although the dual system is not understood to be threatened, senior agency bosses told Mediatel they were concerned that there was a lack of understanding about how the "highly valuable" currencies should be viewed as "complementary" while calling for increased awareness across the sector about the merits of using both.

Another agency boss with a close understanding of both currencies said they feared ABC was under threat because it does not tell the story many publishers operating in a declining print market want to hear.

Although the cost of running both platforms has not been cited as a contributing factor in the upcoming discussions, Mediatel understands that some publishers want to secure a better return on the investment in PAMCo, which has cost around £5.8m.

ABC, meanwhile, costs around £3.8m per year to run and both currencies are majority funded by publishers, with a fractional contribution for UK agencies.

Some of the biggest competitors to publishers, including Facebook and Google, do not let third-party, independent bodies such as ABC to formally audit their platforms. Subsequently, Facebook has come under fire on multiple occasions for ‘marking its own homework’ and making mis-calculations about its audience sizes and video view rates.

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