Here’s a secret about the media world everyone already knew: some publications or media houses exaggerate the size of their audience and scope of their influence.
The most compelling reason for this is to impress advertisers and advertising agencies so they’ll run their campaigns in your magazine, on your site, or with your streaming radio station.
Without a recognised and trusted third party to provide statistics that are available to media professionals and the public, there would be no way to verify the figures provided by media organisations.
This problem reared its ugly head again recently, casting a shadow over a budding local streaming radio industry and setting South Africa’s social web ablaze.
Shaun Dewberry, an IT specialist that works as a Unix engineer at Relational Database Consulting by day, published a scathing report last week Monday (25 June 2012) on what he concluded were deliberately falsified listenership statistics. By night, Dewberry is a techie at Interwebsradio.com, a South African rock and indie streaming radio station startup.
In the conclusion of his report, Dewberry wrote:
A single entity is pumping a dangerous bubble for Internet Radio in this country and directly impacting people’s livelihoods while ripping off advertisers. I cannot reasonably stand by and watch an industry I have a vested interest in be manipulated by hoodlums sporting a techno-babble swindle to technologically ignorant gullible radio start-ups.
The single entity Dewberry implicated in his report is NetDynamix, a provider of streaming services to radio stations such as 2OceansVibe and Ballz Visual Radio.
Although some of Dewberry’s arguments were shown to be flawed, his core assertion has held up against scrutiny. Statistics and other information obtained from log files support his conclusion that the listenership figures provided to Ballz and 2OceansVibe Radio are inaccurate.
Whether deliberately falsified or a serious technical blunder, the effect of inaccurate statistics floating around is devastating.
Media24, for example, refunded advertisers after it was revealed in 2007 that circulation figures at 12 of its 60 magazines were falsified. The statistics were inflated by nearly 50% in some cases.
An industry source who asked not to be named explained that agencies went back on behalf of their clients asking for refunds or additional free value proportional to how much the stats were overstated. Media24 offered the agencies advertising credit that had larger value than the refunds requested, the source said.
If this same principle were to apply to the figures quoted by Ballz and 2OceansVibe, full refunds may be in order for advertisers as the stations delivered ads to less than 1% of the audience they said they had.
This depends on how advertising was sold, of course, but if someone paid to reach an hourly listenership of 50,000, the fact is that they didn’t get it.
2OceansVibe issued a press statement on Friday (29 June 2012) to address concerns over listenership figures.
Seth Rotherham, founder and CEO of 2OceansVibe, said in the statement that they had been selling advertising since before the stats from NetDynamix were available. 2OceansVibe’s pricing also didn’t change after they started reporting listenership figures, Rotherham noted.
Rotherham reiterated that an audit of the stats supplied by NetDynamix was in order and supplied statistics from Google Analytics and a recent survey they ran on 2OceansVibe “while we wait for completion of the audit”.
Quoting stats from Google Analytics without proof, however, isn’t good enough. Similarly so for the listenership figures of streaming radio stations.
A better way is available through industry bodies such as the Digital Media & Marketing Association (DMMA), which 2OceansVibe would soon be joining, Rotherham recently told MyBroadband.
The DMMA tracks the audience statistics (including demographics) of websites through a service called Effective Measure. These statistics are then made available upon request.
This affords industry professionals the information needed to cut through marketing rhetoric with statistics that are audited by an industry body.
Streaming radio in South Africa needs a similar solution to the problem of respected, reliable, and publicly available audience statistics.
The DMMA has stepped up and said it has investigated “various measurement tools that could possibly be used to standardise metrics around digital radio.” Whether the streaming radio industry will select the DMMA for this task is uncertain, though the association seems well positioned to provide the service.
Unless stats are verified by a third party, endorsed by a trusted authority, and available to those who need it, the uncertainty hanging over streaming radio listenership figures will remain.