At last, anything we say may be given in evidence

Radio promotional activity is extremely difficult to monitor, but voice-recognition software is bringing some long-awaited accountability, says Mike Hope-Milne

Accountability is a big issue for all commercial media but the audio nature of radio makes proving what has actually gone on air somewhat challenging.

Spot airtime accountability is now covered effectively by J-ET (Jicrit Electronic Trading), which offers media buyers proof that their planned campaign has been broadcast. However, one area in which radio still struggles to deliver accountability is sponsorship and promotion.

Over the past few months, Capital Radio Group has been working with software company Autonomy to develop software to address this problem. Traditional radio airtime can be monitored using J-ET by reconciling what is scheduled against what is played out, but sponsorship, promotions and other editorial-based activities are harder to monitor.

Radio is unique among broadcast media in that it allows advertisers to be integrated into editorial content, through live presenter mentions as well as pre-recorded trails and credits. This is great for advertisers, but the time-pressures involved in live broadcasting make accurate accountability difficult. As the fast-growing sponsorship and promotions sector is worth more than £70m a year in national radio revenue, a system for delivering accountability is a necessity.

Autonomy and Capital have solved the problem, using voice-recognition software that is accurate enough to record any pre-determined brand mentions or phrases as they are transmitted. The beauty of this method is that it not only records scheduled credits, but also catches any live or ad hoc mentions that go out at other times.

The system is a great help to advertisers such as Royal Mail, whose Special Delivery campaign – currently running on the Capital FM, Century FM and Capital Gold networks – is so integrated into the stations’ output that it consists entirely of ad hoc live presenter mentions.

In tests, the system has been able to identify words and phrases irrespective of the tone or accent in which they are uttered; whether the words are spoken or sung; or whether they are laid over music. The system records all relevant soundbites and the user can select how much of the station’s output is recorded either side of the soundbite. The user can thus check the accuracy of the mentions and also hear how the advertiser’s activity sounds during broadcast. The system generates a report that logs the number of mentions and the times at which they were transmitted for an easy overview of actual delivery against planned activity.

We are currently testing the Autonomy software on Capital FM in London. It is still early days, but if tests continue to go well, the radio industry can only benefit, as the system puts radio sponsorship and promotions on a level footing with spot advertising in the vital area of accountability.

Mike Hope-Milne is brand sales director at Capital Radio Group

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