PAMRO conference reviews how the African media landscape is changing

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Africa’s market researchers came together at the end of August for their annual conference PAMRO in Nairobi. Although there was no big headline announcement, there were many presentations looking at how Africa’s media landscape is undergoing rapid change. Market and audience research consultant for PEGS (Practical Education and Gender Support) Graham Mytton was there and below is an edited version of his impressions that he gave as the closing speech at the conference.

In a keynotes address from Linus Gitahi, Chairman of the Kenyan Media Owners Association and CEO of the Nation Group, he made the major important point that governments on the continent do little or no research.

Steve Garton who is Director of Media Research for Synovate woke us all up with great enthusiasm to the speed of change that we are now facing. He called on us to be more aware of the perceptions of viewers, readers, surfers and listeners.

George Lutta, Regional Director for ScanGroup/Mediacom, talked about Word of Mouth as a medium and also talked about new digital platforms. The assumption seems to be that these put consumers in the driving seat and that they involve us. However the cartoon that George showed of two people texting each other, even though they were sitting together makes the point that face to face contact is more real and that nothing else is as rich in meaning or human as word of mouth.

However much word of mouth communication intervenes in the way that communication via the electronic and print media is received.

We heard many say that we need to take account of social interactions. But nobody really answered the question, "how we can measure them?" And it is not easy. People may remember what they watch on TV, read in the paper, hear on the radio and even what websites they visit.

But can we really record accurately our social interactions? Most of them we do without thinking about or noticing what we are doing.

Will Green, Managing Director of Apurimac showed us some data on Internet use in Africa. There was a lot of interesting stuff here but not enough time to take it all in. But having the data now on the PAMRO website is a valuable asset. It occurred to me that some of us have data from countries that he did not include. Perhaps there is a way of adding these to what he provided. There are 53 countries in Africa. He showed Internet data from 8 of them. I know of similar data available for a further 16, meaning that data exist for 23 countries, almost half and well over 75% of the continent’s population.

Tim Smyth, Managing Director of Millward Brown, in his two sessions gave us a lot to think about.

Against a background of declining advertising spend and declining impact of advertising, new media are growing very fast. But as his data showed, old media remain strong. Radio in East Africa remains the number one medium in terms of time spent. And nearly everywhere else radio remains in the lead.

PAMRO’s new vice president Josiah Kimanzi said we do need some new measures.

Or at the very least we need to rethink what we are measuring and why. But then when you get new measures of how people use the web, their mobile phones, where they go, where they go next and so on, how do we integrate all this with what we are used to – Reach, Share, GRPs and so on?

General Manager Research and Audience Strategy, eTV South Africa, (later to be elected as our new President) told us about the launch of digital free to air terrestrial TV in South Africa. There was much of interest here, especially the use of research in helping the process and the reminder that to encourage the take up of a new technology it is a good idea to provide new services and new content to encourage customers to buy.

Josiah Kimanzi, from the Nigerian market research company RMS, gave a fascinating account of the main theme of changing media across the continent. Declining advertising, growing internet and mobile use. Facebook has taken only 5 years to reach 150 million whereas the phone took 89.

Josiah’s message loud and clear was that the AMPS approach needs a rethink.

In my experience in Nigeria the differences between urban and rural people, and between the better off and the very poor are very great and the slightest differences in sampling can produce very wide variation and error. We also have to ask searching questions about survey coverage. This is a real concern that I have about AMPS type surveys. Because they are driven, paid for and used by the commercial business world, where is the guarantee of national representativeness? The buyers don’t really want to know about the poor. But if we are presenting data as nationally representative we have to ensure that all rural areas and the poor are fully represented and covered?

There is another concern that we need to have about coverage. And that has to do with age. Most of our surveys cover people down to 16 or 15. But Africa is a continent of young people and we leave out a lot of them, largely because of the ethical rules of our profession. With the ESOMAR rules and guidelines that all of us adhere to, interviewing children requires parental permission and this takes time and time costs money. But Paul Haupt, CEO of SAARF, showed us some very interesting and important work that they have been doing among teenagers down to 13 years old, two or three years younger than we all normally cover. He compared them to the national sample as a whole which covers 16 year old upwards. What I would like to have seen would be some comparisons with the other teenagers already covered, using teenagers as a group compared to the 20s and over.

Bob Currin, CEO of AfricaScope, told us he was interested in and fascinated by maps! And he used this perspective to talk about spatial ways to “map” research data. I share his love of maps and his desire to find ways to present information in similarly memorable and helpful ways. I especially like the idea of presenting media data on maps. This is especially helpful when using radio and TV station coverage maps combined with the relevant audience data. This is not only very valuable for advertisers and other similar data users.

It is I am sure the best way that media owners can understand what they are achieving.

We used to try to do this at the BBC World Service, but until now all such coverage maps, combined with audience data, had to be done painstakingly by hand. Now new software makes it possible to do more easily and indeed accurately.

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