by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA) Understanding how the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) puts together its research is difficult enough so if you’ve been scratching your head lately over the battle between the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Saarf, then you are not alone.

The NAB – which represents the radio and television media owners – resigned recently from the Saarf board (as of the start of next year), leaving many in media wondering what this  means for the future.

So what is going on here?

Is it a battle for control of Saarf – and, therefore, how audience is measured? Will the NAB come back to Saarf and, if it doesn’t, what will replace Saarf’s research on South Africa’s TV audience  (called Tams) and for radio (called Rams)?

Media planners need research to decide where best to spend advertisers’ money so where is this all going?

Grubstreet has learned that the NAB’s walk out was prompted by extreme frustration on its part that it only had two places on the Saarf board, which consists of representatives of the media owners, advertisers, media planner and marketers.

The broadcasters contribute a lot of money to Saarf (78% of the total, according to the NAB) and, sources say, the terrestrial channels led by were unhappy with Saarf’s research methodology, which they believe is skewed towards urban audiences.

Because urban audiences are wealthier than those in rural areas, this tends to favour Naspers’ pay-TV behemoth, DStv MultiChoice.

The NAB felt its voice wasn’t being heard (it wanted six seats rather than two) and it threw down the gauntlet and walked out, prompting media planner Gordon Muller to write this on his blog:

“The sight of a bunch of grown-ups squabbling over the funding of media data under the Saarf banner leaves me incredulous. Each convinced that they are not getting their “fair share” they would rather pollute the sandpit than let anybody else play in it. Unlike my grandchildren though, these giants of the industry focus their squabbles on the price of everything, and show little regard for the value. And when confronted by concerned onlookers they all point at the other and default to the time honoured IME solution. It Wasn’t Me! With toddlers it’s understandable. With adults it’s simply called greed. I’ve no idea what the solution is but at least with grandchildren you can stick them in the naughty corner.”

It is conceivable that the NAB will be appeased and come back into the fold before the end of the year but those close to Saarf are not hopeful.

So where does this leave media planners and advertisers in 2014?

saarfscreengrabRichard Lord, associate media director at The MediaShop media-planning firm, says it is business as usual for the moment but “there will be ramifications down the line.  One of the big issues, however, is that it doesn’t just affect Tams and Rams but it also affects Amps because 75% of Amps funding comes from the NAB.”

The NAB will have to come up with an alternative to Saarf’s research, he says, although this should not ideally be done the media owners themselves but by an independent agency.

“It is difficult to comment without knowing what they are going to propose and put on the table,” Lord says, “and the whole situation might be resolved although that’s looking unlikely.”

Muller, an independent media planner, told Grubstreet: “I need to use research. That is not in question. What is in question is whether Saarf, as its currently constituted and currently managed, is the best mechanism for producing that research.

“In attempting to fix this problem, I believe that marketers and media agencies need to eliminate one scenario: the scenario where media owners produce their own research without the checks and balances provided by a central industry resource. That’s not to say all media owner research lacks validity but it has the potential to do that.”

Muller believes it is instructive to ask why the print-media owners (represented by the PDMSA industry body) have been happy to stay in Saarf while the NAB has walked out?

“NAB feels that Tams under-reads their audience and they want to create currency which will normalise their audiences. PDMSA has an Amps  currency which offers 30/40/50 readers per copy. Nobody in their right mind would walk away from that. If the industry did due diligence on readership figures, PDMSA would also pull out of Amps.

“The bottom line is that, despite the protestations of marketers, media owners fund Saarf/Amps/Rams/Tams and they can do what they want with it,” Muller says. “Until marketers start taking control of their own destiny again (and the Marketing Association of SA is trying to do just that) then media owners will run the show. Nobody cares about the Saarf board. They care about who owns the data.

“We need TV data,” he says. “If it isn’t Tams then it will be something else that does what Tams does. I understand that NAB favours the UK BARB approach. TV planning isn’t totally reliant on Saarf/Tams but it is reliant on data. Saarf is utterly intransigent when it comes to anything which challenges its own view of life and its special relationship with Nielsen. Having said that, the data is a long way from being useless as critics would have it… The real danger lies in the abuse of data by unskilled, untrained media planners rather than in the data itself.”

– SA’s leading media commentator, Gill Moodie, offers intelligence on media – old and new. Reprinted from her site Grubstreet.

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