The growing cost of media research
It's not clear whether the bigger and better data so desperately sought by the media industry is matched by an equally urgent desire to pay for the research that would deliver it, writes Raymond Snoddy.
Autumn is on the way so the perennial battle of the acronyms is hotting up. Turn your head for a moment and you are in danger of missing the latest outpouring from the JICs - from BARB, NRS and RAB - through to Thinkbox which courageously chose a word - well almost - for its name.
And just when you have got your head around PADDs, up pops PATS before you start wondering what exactly will happen with the Jed Glanvill-led review into newspaper audience measurement. And what precisely is the significance of Project Dovetail?
Far more importantly, what on earth does it all mean?
In part little that is totally new is happening. Each sector of the media industry has been hiring researchers and consultants since pre-historic times to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their particular medium delivers a unique, stable, or preferably growing audience and therefore deserves the continuing support of advertisers.
But something has changed. The data arms race is intensifying, the dance has got faster and faster and there are growing fears that a chair or two could be removed before long.
Everybody now wants the urgent delivery of what they have long regarded as the Holy Grail: robust real-time data that reveals the use of their particular content in and out of the home across every device that the technologists have dreamed up.
We're clearly on our way although, as it has always been, it is far from clear that the earnest desire for greater, more and better data is matched by an equally urgent desire to pay for the research that would deliver it.
In the telly world, BARB, the broadcasting research body that comes closest to real time data, at a hefty price, has been very active.
The organisation is deploying new measurement techniques to highlight panellists' viewing on iPad and Android tablets.
It is a step on the way to the realisation of Project Dovetail that will eventually deliver "full cross-platform reporting."
BARB surveys have also been plundered to show that Amazon/LoveFilm has a 4.5 per cent presence in UK homes with Netflix on 10.2 per cent. The research backs up other work across Europe suggesting that such OTT operators will be complementary to linear television, an additional subscription, rather than a substitute for it.
Next week Thinkbox will unveil its latest tome - Screen Life 3 - research that goes into people's homes and shows the rhythm of television viewing across its many guises.
Naturally radio has not been silent in this maelstrom and the Radio Advertising Bureau this week produced research to demonstrate that audience consumption of radio is growing across all platforms.
On-demand helped to boost the weekly reach of the total audio audience from 1,395 million hours in autumn 2012 to 1,470 million this spring. Naturally young people go disproportionately for on-demand, accounting for 29 per cent of their total commercial listening.
The head already starts to ache before we even get to all the frenzied activity in national newspapers with the NPA filing, at least initial intention to divorce papers, against the NRS.
Of course they want better, more robust and more timely readership data.
Before we move on to a decree nisi, the wise words of Bob Wootton of ISBA should be considered.
It could be costly to abandon the NRS because the other media research currencies - BARB, RAJAR, ABC, Route, UKOM and JICREG - are all calibrated against the NRS survey.
And as a director of NRS for 20 years, Wootton is well placed to note that over that period it was the publishers who tended to scotch any attempt to spend more money on further ground-breaking research.
All the newspaper issues spilled out this week at MediaTel's conference on the future of national newspapers and although there were many nuances, what was most remarkable was the degree of agreement on what needs to be done.
If there is going to be an NRS divorce - and it doesn't look entirely inevitable - then it will not be acrimonious and visiting rights to the children will not be opposed.
Dominic Carter, News UK's commercial director, put the case for change well when he argued that while consumers have changed that hadn't been reflected in the research.
"I think everyone agrees we need a more robust set of audience research...what we have today isn't robust enough for our business going forwards," said Carter. He added that while the NRS PADD research incorporating mobile and tablet data was a step in the right direction it wasn't the answer.
Yet Jim Freeman, group trading director at Telegraph Media argued that the industry should be proud of NRS as a consistent, unified currency and it was a good place to move forward from.
On the all-important agency side Jane Wolfson, head of commercial strategy at Initiative suggested that while NRS could be improved, it was still one of the most robust UK surveys and her clients had confidence in it.
As for PATS, the new Publisher Advertising Transaction System - please don't whatever you do call it a 'trading system' - which is designed to streamline transactions and invoicing across multiple platforms; there is a lot of agreement on that.
It will be rolled out across newsbrands early next year and then on to regional newspapers and magazines.
There was just a word of caution from Jane Wolfson. It would give planners and buyers more time to be creative but all publishers would have to adopt the system. Having to switch between two systems would be counter-productive.
Overall, everyone seems to aspire to having better and more robust data in some form and doing it in an amicable way.
All Jed Glanvill now has to do is identify what publishers really, really want, decide how to do it and identify who is prepared to pay for it. That should be enough to keep him amused at least until Christmas.
After that he might be the ideal person to feel his way towards a unified theory of media planning and buying across all media and all platforms - one that could someday lead to a bonfire of the acronyms.