NEWS24 December 2008

News Review of the Year: Part Three

The deliberative dilemma, radio ratings rows and behavioural targeting


Deliberative with a capital D

“Where do you stand on deliberative research?” our feature asked. Is it an aid to democracy or political smokescreen? “It’s bollocks with a capital B,” says blogger Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes. “It can be led and it invariably comes up with the answer favoured by those doing the commissioning.” Clearly he’s not a fan, and neither is Greenpeace. The environmental action group accused the government of fixing the outcome of a deliberative exercise last year which found in favour of plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants. Greenpeace lodged a complaint with the Market Research Standards Board (MRSB) against Opinion Leader, the company tasked with running the event, and a year later the board ruled that the agency had, in one respect, breached rule B14 of the Market Research Society Code of Conduct, which requires that steps are taken “to ensure amongst other things that respondents would not be led towards a particular answer”. For its part Opinion Leader questioned whether MRSB was competent to assess new forms of deliberative engagement.

Story of the Month:

Ex-Research International CEO Mark Cranmer agreed to chair the Joint Industry Committee for Internet Measurement Systems as it works to establish a common planning currency for online media in the UK.

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Political encroachments

Outraged ethnic minority broadcasters, concerned politicians, divided media agencies – Arbitron this year faced what has come to be the typical reaction in the US to the introduction of new media measurement technologies. Arbitron’s portable people meter (PPM), the replacement for its paper diary-based radio audience measurement system, is facing accusations similar to those levied at Nielsen and its local people meters in 2005 – that the system is flawed in that it undercounts ethnic minorities, leading to sharp declines in the ratings numbers for stations targeting such audiences. Investigations have been called for, and those calls were heeded by New York and New Jersey attorneys general Andrew Cuomo and Anne Milgram, who are both suing Arbitron under consumer protection and civil rights laws. The firm’s CEO Steve Morris insists PPM is “valid, fair and representative” and that the media industry “should be concerned about these continued political encroachments”. But with ad dollars at stake, right now it’s every man for himself.

Story of the Month:

Pollster Roy Morgan Research was dragged into the national spotlight by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for sacking 56 of its Melbourne call centre workers via email without prior notice.

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What are you looking at?

Online behavioural targeting (BT) is either a godsend for consumers or a dangerous threat to privacy – and depending on which way legislators choOse to view it, the consequences for research could be severe. Consumer groups have made a good fist this year of arguing for new privacy legislation to counter the scourge of BT technology, which tracks and analyses the websites people visit, the content they read and the ads they click on to deliver more relevant marketing materials. Some lawmakers would be keen to ban it, others would like to enforce strict opt-in requirements on any form of behavioural tracking. Either way, techniques employed by researchers could also fall within the scope of legislation. So far the MR industry appears to be nonplussed, content to let advertisers, privacy advocates and legislators argue the toss. Not the wisest course of action, one would think. But as we move into 2009, there will be many things the industry needs to reappraise.

Story of the Month:

CEO Greg Novak was ousted by the board of Harris Interactive in favour of former TNS North America custom president Kimberly Till, having become frustrated with a run of poor financial results.

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Author: Brian Tarran