Sally army or a new Aunt Sally at Rajar?

Running Rajar is a tough job: even if legal action can be averted, a new measuring system must be chosen -Âand implemented. By Caroline Parry

Sally de la Bedoyere, the incoming managing director of radio audience measurement body Rajar, should make the most of Christmas: she may not get the opportunity to put her feet up much once she starts her new role in the New Year. She takes over at Rajar at a crucial time for the radio industry: when it is struggling to adapt to the advance of digital radio and multi-platform listening, and debating the need for a new audience measurement system (MW last week).

As boss of the radio audience measurement body, which is wholly owned by the Commercial Radio Companies Association and the BBC, it is this last issue that will take up most of de la Bedoyere’s time.

Rajar is facing legal action from Kelvin MacKenzie’s Wireless Group over its decision not to adopt an electronic measurement system after 15 months of tests (MW July 3). The two sides are due to meet tomorrow (Thursday) for a final attempt to settle the issue out of court, but industry observers say a legal battle looks increasingly likely. MacKenzie believes that the paper diary system currently in use under-reports the audience for his national commercial station TalkSport and that this is costing &£1.5m a month in lost revenue. To back this up, he has funded the National Broadcast Survey, which is carried out by GfK Media using an electronic wristwatch system.

If the legal action goes ahead, it will coincide with the results of a test being carried out by Transport for London to determine which data – Rajar or GfK – gives advertisers the best planning advantage (MW last week).

The radio industry admits that the diary system is not without its flaws – after all, respondents’ memories, like anyone else’s, can be unreliable. But de la Bedoyere, like outgoing managing director Jane O’Hara, is charged with determining whether electronic measurement is more accurate, less accurate or just carries a different type of inaccuracy. Furthermore, she has to weigh up which of the two electronic measurement systems available – the GfK wristwatch or the Arbitron pager system (which monitors radio listening across all platforms, including digital TV and the internet) – is more accurate. Some industry insiders give Arbitron the edge, saying that the wristwatch system can pick up voices from elsewhere and attribute them to a radio station.

One radio insider says: “MacKenzie has forced the industry to look at Rajar and see it as inaccurate. Rajar could be in danger of being left behind.”

After 17 years at Associated Newspapers, including a two-year stint as the managing director of the Evening Standard, de la Bedoyere is known as a tough operator. One senior radio figure describes her as “ballsy” and says that despite having no previous experience of the radio industry she will easily handle Rajar’s challenges.

One radio industry expert, however, says that the newspaper industry has a reputation for being reluctant to accept change. That is not a trait de la Bedoyere can afford to bring to Rajar.

If Rajar does decide to introduce a new system, its implementation could be a bigger test than the decision itself. De la Bedoyere will be desperate to avoid the furore that greeted BARB when it switched contractors and introduced a new panel that resulted in significant audience declines for some channels (MW January 17, 2002).

Chrysalis Radio chief executive Phil Riley believes that the seamless introduction of a new audience measurement system, rather than the nature of that system, will be the key to de la Bedoyere’s success or failure at Rajar. He suggests that moving towards a mixed system – where the bigger stations are measured electronically and the smaller stations stick with the diary – is an alternative to a complete overhaul.

A second round of testing, using modified versions of both the Arbitron pager and the GfK wristwatch, is due to start in the summer. But pressure is increasing on Rajar to act more quickly, as advertisers such as TfL try to work out how best to use the data from both the Rajar and the GfK measurement systems.

TfL group marketing director Chris Townsend says: “I have a remit to maximise our budget in order to work efficiently on behalf of the Government and taxpayers. We asked PHD Media to analyse the data and it agreed that there were significant differences in terms of reach.”

While one senior marketer has labelled the experiment as “gimmicky”, Townsend, who worked with MacKenzie during his time at BSkyB, defends his move. He says he is sceptical of the diary system and believes that the GfK data is more scientific.

However, Procter & Gamble associate director for media Bernard Balderston says: “I am very much opposed to having two currencies. It leads to a no-win situation. The industry must stick with Rajar and go forward together. I wouldn’t seriously consider using research that another media owner is involved in.”

But advertisers and media agencies could face a long wait as Rajar vacillates over the best way forward. De la Bedoyere may find herself under a great deal of pressure to increase the pace of change.

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