Irish radio and advertising executives will stick for now with the current method of calculating radio audiences after an alternative listener “diary” approach was found to yield similar data in tests.
The Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) survey, which publishes audience figures for radio stations and programmes every quarter, has attracted criticism from some within the industry who say more robust methods are used in other countries.
However, the committee behind the JNLR said the existing survey remains “best practice” for the Irish market for now.
Its conclusion is based on a pilot study by research firm Ipsos MRBI that was conducted in parallel with the normal questionnaire, which has the largest sample size of any media survey in the Irish market.
The JNLR, which surveys about 16,500 people over the course of 12 months, uses a research method known as “day-after aided recall”, in which respondents are asked face-to-face what they listened to the day before.
The first question is simply “did you listen to the radio yesterday?” and if the answer is yes, the researcher proceeds to ask a series of more specific questions.
The pilot study asked listeners to self-complete a diary over a seven-day period instead. A sample of 650 participants, recruited in Dublin and the southeast regions, were given the choice of completing a diary in an A5 physical booklet or online.
There were “no significant data differences” between the pen-and-paper diary and the current JNLR survey, the study found, while there were “poor levels of compliance” with online diary-keeping. Most participants, even those in younger age groups, chose to use the physical rather than online diary.
The JNLR committee, which includes advertisers’ representatives, will write to members this week to say it does not favour switching to the self-completed diary approach, which is the method used by the UK industry.
Committee chairman Scott Williams said the existing JNLR was "the Mercedes brand of radio research", notwithstanding the misgivings of a younger generation of advertising buyers.
"It sounds a bit old-fashioned, but it is the best way of doing it," said Mr Williams, who is group content director at the Rupert Murdoch-owned radio company Wireless Ireland.
Ipsos MRBI also explored switching from a pen-and-paper questionnaire to one where researchers are equipped with iPads or similar devices. But it found that “the device actually gets in the interviewer and the respondent”, Mr Williams said.
The JNLR committee will still consider “new approaches to data collection” as part of the tender process for radio measurement in the 2020-2022 period.
“Passive measurement”, used in the United States and Norway, is a third option that has been explored by the industry here. This is where the audio consumption of a sample of the population is tracked using an app.
But the method remains cost-prohibitive in the Irish market, relies on high levels of compliance from participants and measures radio they can “hear” rather than the radio they “listen” to, according to the committee.
Mr Williams said he would personally like to see the findings of the radio listenership survey combined with streaming data. “There has to be a way to combine them. For me, the next phase would be to figure out how to do that.”
The radio executive, who was the first voice heard on Irish independent radio in 1989, said he would also like to see a standardised “hub” for research on all forms of media consumption, so that the industry has consistent data across radio, television, newspapers and other media.
“Someone needs to take a lead on this and I would love it if it was our sector,” he said.
The next set of JNLR figures will be published on Thursday.