Bonfire of the JICs?
Forces are at play that could change the way we measure media – and ISBA‘s Bob Wootton wonders if a more fragmented media audience could pave the way for more collaborative research.
One of the first industry events I attended after joining ISBA in April 1996 was Admap’s ‘Bonfire of the JICs’ gathering.
To quote Newsline’s coverage of it at the time, “Chaired by James Best, chairman of BMP DDB Needham and held at the Café Royal, the conference examined the theory that JICs could be done away with, or put on the ‘bonfire’, and that research could be carried out individually by separate media bodies.”
James’ illustrious career has continued – after chairing the Advertising Association, inter alia he now chairs CAP and BCAP, the bodies that determine what can and can’t be said in ads.
As for the event itself, it was, unsurprisingly, inconclusive, though it did give vent to some strong views. It also gave me an early taste of something I would have to become used and inured to as the advertisers’ representative, when a senior agency media director (now retired, but I’ll spare his blushes anyway) told me in full session to “shut the fuck up and sit down”. Happy days.
I represent advertisers on all the bodies that generate the UK’s media research ‘currencies’: BARB, RAJAR, ABC, NRS, Route, UKOM and JICREG. And with that perspective, almost twenty years on, I smell woodsmoke.
How do I reach this conclusion? Well, as I look around I see common vectors and forces at work. The ‘strong forces’ first:
Advertisers are delegating and deferring more and more to their agencies. Few have a point of view or much engagement with the currencies that underpin their often considerable investments in media. And very few feel the need to subscribe directly to media research data any more.
Agencies are still pretty engaged and we should be very grateful for the many agency leaders who still involve themselves to ensure effective governance. Agencies also underwrite and/or part-fund the costs of a number of industry surveys. But at the same time agencies invest heavily, both in their own proprietary tools and in their industry body’s (IPA’s) ground-breaking cross-media TouchPoints survey, now on its fifth iteration.
That said, for their newer intakes, involvement in the currencies is not seen as interesting, nor career-critical. In some quarters, even a working knowledge is considered more or less unnecessary to one’s ascent of the greasy pole.
Media Owners’ relationship with the currencies remains as highly-charged as ever. A good quarter’s results are trumpeted and monetised triumphantly; a bad quarter and it’s all about the shortcomings of the research. They have the most money at direct risk and for that simple reason are also its major funders. But over recent years, the double whammy of recession and wholesale change across the media landscape has led to a significant funding shortfall.
Then there’s the detail. The distribution of most media content is digital, leading to convergence in the measurability of each and all, and driving overlaps in the ambits of all the different legacy bodies.
BARB is by some way the best-funded of our industry currencies and has an aggressive plan to embrace hybrid methodologies to morph our nation’s television viewing survey into a canvass of audiovisual media channels under a recently refreshed chair and CEO.
RAJAR is capable of embracing, and poised to embrace, measurement of streamed channels. However, its media owner stakeholders differ as to the desirability of this, which affects its scope and progress. Both BARB and RAJAR also count the ‘non-commercial’ BBC, an interesting and different influence, within their ranks.
The National Readership Survey has extended its canvass rather vigorously and effectively, cross-linking with inputs from UKOM to cover digital editions, although thus far sample sizes make this research more practical for the nationals than for most periodicals. But regardless of size, the question of saliency remains.
ABC is slightly different from all other JICs as it deals in audits of push-based metrics and not (panel-based) research. It has spent the past decade evolving from its legacy print-circulation audit base to embrace website pushes and has latterly become the industry’s first port of call for evaluating and accrediting the many new and complex online metrics, again to widely varying degrees of enthusiasm from its media owner stakeholders.
JICREG models regional titles’ audiences from ABC and publisher data, the pool of which is diminishing as that industry faces particularly lean times.
Route launched its new research into out-of-home in 2013 and continues to roll it out across all formats and estate. Like the industry sub-sector it serves, it can be a bit of a ‘closed shop’ with a tendency not to market what it has spent a decade and many millions developing, but the survey itself is undoubtedly a step-change and has considerable support and uptake from the specialist agencies.
UKOM is also something of an odd man out. Its governance is not strictly cross-industry and it doesn’t oversee its own research survey but instead wrappers and steers a commercial offering – currently comScore. This is a (much) cheaper solution but one which affords less industry oversight. Online media owners, especially the pureplays raised on analytics, have little time for the audience research that brands need and therefore have few qualms about spending less than any other channel on their audience research.
As audiences fragment and scatter across channels, it’s getting more difficult to research them accurately. With difficulty comes added cost, but at a time when funding is less secure and more threatened.
The contractors capable of providing research to this market are relatively few, but on the positive side they continue to see UK industry contracts as a prize worth fighting for. Joint industry bodies move slowly but, like democracy, are still the ‘least worst’ solution when compared with the alternative of media-owner owned or funded surveys skewed to producing bigger numbers.
True, they’re reaching out to each other where there are glimpses of common cause, but given the pressures, how long can the multiple silo’ed bodies driven by the legacy agendas of their various media owner stakeholders persist?
It would be rash to call 1996’s ‘Bonfire Of The JICs’ event prescient. Equally, the ‘separate media bodies’ thing would be a red herring but, notwithstanding turkeys and Christmas, maybe it’s time to revisit a more streamlined, efficient, effective and collaborative future, lest Kantar’s TGI simply sweeps the board.
Cannes of sour grapes?
It might just be me catching up late with a phenomenon that’s been building for several years – and no, I wasn’t there – but this year was the first year social media and the Cannes Festival really converged for me.
Maybe it’s the company I keep, but my Facebook timeline was full of posts of our industry’s leaders – sorry to say this, but mainly the laydeez – hanging out with slebs or each other at the rolling parties on or near beaches, now more or less taken over by the tech players.
Nice work if you can get it, but where were all the selfies with the Global CMOs that everybody says they’re going there to meet? Nothing wrong with mixing business with pleasure, but broadcasting thus perhaps betrays a slight lack of judgement and self-awareness.
Unsung on the FB and Twitter feeds, there’s an amazing amount of serious work done by the judges who wade through thousands and thousands of entries, locked away in darkened rooms away from la plage, La Croisette and the otherwise undrinkable Domaine D’Ott that substitutes for the water supply there.
Which makes it even more of a shame that it comes across more than ever as one humongous jolly to those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to attend. Did I mention I wasn’t there? Grrr and happy holidays!
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