With electronic meters now in our sights, let’s work to make it reality

The timetable for introducing an electronic measuring system has been set; the radio industry should drop the hysterics and focus on the goal. By Paul Brown

Commercial radio companies have welcomed the publication of a timetable by Radio Joint Audience Research (Rajar) that clearly demonstrates to advertisers the process that will eventually lead to change in the way audiences are measured. The Rajar figures provide the currency that underpins commercial radio’s annual revenue – in excess of &£600m. The new electronic system will enhance that trading currency, provided the meters prove to be sound.

The introduction of meters will be the most profound change in radio audience measurement seen so far. It’s a serious issue, yet the debate has become hijacked by soundbites and sniping. Thankfully, publishing the timetable has brought the argument back into the realm of common sense, as the timetable reveals a course of action that will end in the specification for a new research contract in 2005 and its implementation.

Rajar first requested information about electronic meters in 1996, when they were at the development stage. In 2002, as soon as the meters were technologically advanced enough, Rajar began testing them.

Frustratingly, after 15 months of tests, the results weren’t conclusive. The audience measurement body raised its concerns with the meter manufacturers, who have made important modifications in order to make them workable in the UK market. The Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA) and the rest of the Rajar board hope that independent tests of the meters, which are due to start next month, will prove their reliability.

As Rajar managing director Sally de la Bedoyere rightly says, the published timetable is ambitious but achievable. It requires an enormous amount of hard work and deliberation from the industry, a course of action that has already started with the most extensive consultation of Rajar’s stakeholders ever undertaken. The information this yields, due to be reported within the next few weeks, will be a vital part of the contract tender process next year.

CRCA, co-owner of Rajar with the BBC, fully supports this careful yet rigorous programme. As the trade body for commercial radio, we represent 250 UK commercial radio stations whose livelihoods are based on their ability to persuade advertisers to address their listeners through this medium. Credible, reliable and affordable listening figures are the bedrock of this argument.

Rajar’s other board members – the BBC, the Radio Advertising Bureau, the IPA and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers – are also committed to a schedule that will result in a new specification being implemented as soon as it is achievable.

There is much to do to enable a new contract that incorporates meters to commence in 2007, and this timetable is a call to action for the industry and its advertisers.

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