How reliable are radio ratings? – Mumbrella – 15.Jan 12

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In this guest posting, Jason ‘Jabba’ Davis wonders how accurate radio ratings can be, since the data is collated from handwritten diaries.

So, the radio ratings season gets underway tomorrow. After a well-earned break, Australia’s commercial radio stations will renew their obsession with figures to see how many of us are listening. Are they winning or losing the ratings war?

The much feared radio survey is the only way to measure the success or failure of a station’s playlist, talent, promotions or even good old Black Thunder crosses. With six-figure salaries riding on the make-or-break nature of ratings, just how accurate are Australia’s radio survey results?

“That’s the million dollar question,” says Peter Cornelius, MD of media at Nielsen Australia, the organisation responsible for calculating radio ratings. Commercial Radio Australia pays Cornelius and his team a large sum every year to measure what stations we listen to, at what time and for how long.

Cornelius says: “when the ratings go up, it’s the work of the programmers, when they go down it’s Nielsen’s fault.” More than just a number cruncher, he sees Nielsen as a marketing services company for the industry.

So how does the ratings system work? Nielsen individually selects and trains householders to record their listening habits across a one-week period. 2400 diaries are distributed in both Sydney and Melbourne, 2000 in Brisbane, 1850 in Perth and 1750 in Adelaide. Data is then collected and independantly audited. Based on world standards, the number of surveys per capita is deemed to be very high.

My main aim in speaking with Nielsen was to expose any imagined gaping holes in their system, but after an hour on the phone with Cornelius, it’s clear they live and die by the integrity of the data they collect.

The system is not perfect. But until technology offers something remarkable, it looks like the humble diary is here to stay.

Jason ‘Jabba’ Davis is a media personality. He plays Dazza Smith in SBS comedy Housos.

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