FEATURE1 November 2003

Analysis: Kelvin MacKenzie vs Rajar

Rajar and The Wireless Group are still at loggerheads. Yvette Mackenzie ponders a possible outcome.

The very public spat between Kelvin MacKenzie, CEO of the Wireless Group and Rajar, the radio audience measurement body has caused considerable ripples in the usually genteel world of radio measurement.

MacKenzie is threatening to sue Rajar for compensation, as he believes its paper based diary system has commercially harmed his TalkSport station to the tune of £15m. He claims that he would get a more accurate and – more importantly – higher listener figures with an electronic meter system, which would impact his advertising figures. He says: “Privately [other broadcasters] all admit that diary based research is quite simply, fundamentally flawed. To say you believe in diary based research is to say you believe in the stagecoach when you could have a Range Rover.”

He also believes that Rajar is failing the industry by refusing to implement change. However, Jane O’Hara, managing director of Rajar says that electronic systems are not robust enough at the moment.

Both sides of the argument have tested the electronic measuring system. MacKenzie commissioned GfK Research to conduct tests of electronic meters in the spring of 2002. The results showed that TalkSport had greater reach than reported under Rajar’s paper-based diary system.

Rajar has also done its research. Last year it ran a £800,000 15-month programme which tested two of the most advanced electronic meters on the market, the Arbitron Portable People Meter and the Radiocontrol Audiometer. The trial was not a ringing endorsement for the electronic systems as there were serious concerns about consistency of results. Rajar announced in July that it didn’t feel it could introduce this kind of measurement in the short term.

There were also concerns about respondents. “There is a myth that electronic measurement allows respondents to be passive and let the meter do all the work,” says O’Hara. “However, you still need respondent compliance. To work effectively involves a change of habits.”

Despite the negative results of the first round of testing the idea of electronic measurement has not been dismissed and Rajar has allocated £500,000 for tests to evaluate second generation meters from July 2004. However, this is not soon enough for Mr MacKenzie.

“At the end of it all I’m going to have my day in court,” he says. I wouldn’t care a less about this if I weren’t so damaged by it.” But if the system is so unfair, what do the other commercial broadcasters think? “As far as I know Kelvin doesn’t have any allies in the radio industry but he believes strongly in what he is doing,” says O’Hara. MacKenzie takes a far more bullish line: “All members of the Commercial Radio Companies Association stick together,” he says.

This atmosphere of confrontation could be damaging in itself to radio measurement. Some broadcasters fear that this rather ugly episode is bringing measurement into disrepute and is devaluing the currency. The rise of radio advertising has been one of the few success stories in a rather gloomy advertising climate. If this row tarnishes that success MacKenzie would not be popular in the radio community.

In the final analysis Rajar regards a switch to electronic measurement as inevitable and it could be said that MacKenzie is actually arguing a moot point. However, it’s possible that MacKenzie’s barnstorming has pushed Rajar to move a little faster than it naturally would which, with the relevant technology in place, can only be a good thing.

November | 2003