Broadcast audiences – Africa’s blissful ignorance holds back industry development in most of the continent

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The rational version of how advertisers and advertising agencies buy airtime is through using media planning based on audience research. Africa’s reality is very different with only a few countries having continuous research. Very little of the existing research is focused on programme audiences on an overnight timeline that will allow agencies to adjust their choices. But for the majority of countries on the continent, there is only blissful ignorance and “gut feel”. Russell Southwood looks at how this lack of audience research holds Africa’s broadcast industries back.

I met a broadcaster from DRC at DISCOP for the first time several years ago and I was asking him about his station. He told me it was one of the leading stations in Kinshasa (which, by the way, I think it probably is). There are 50 or so TV stations in DRC and no regular, reliable research: so how can anyone know which is a leading TV station and which is another two-bit outfit transmitting pirated content? Advertisers in DRC can only make choices on the basis of what their friends and colleagues tell them and by conducting straw polls in their office. Yes, the office straw poll has happened in several countries I visited last year.

Continuous audience research data is only available for a limited number of countries, most of which are Anglophone Sub-Saharan African countries. These are (in alphabetical order): Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Outside of these regular audience surveys, there is the annual TNS SofresAfriscope survey for Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Gabon, Mali and Senegal. Afriscope clients include: France24, RFI, TV5Monde, CFI - Canal France International, Canal+ Horizons and FTPI - France TélévisionsPublicité International. With the exception of Canal+ Horizons all of these are publicly funded French organisations. TNS Sofres has also started a survey called Maghreboscope for Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. There is no audience data for North Africa’s largest market, Egypt.

Synovate has tried to get continuous surveys going in Mozambique and Zambia without success. Beyond this data, there are occasional privately funded audience surveys (in among other places, DRC, Mozambique and Swaziland) and donor-funded surveys looking at media use. In addition, there are occasional, one-off surveys that look at issues like media and Internet use.

The main methodological issues with the data are two-fold: firstly, whether the survey samples are correctly balanced to reflect the urban vs rural divide in country; and secondly, whether the socio-economic categories reflect African realities.

Until recently, Angola’s Marktest only did survey sampling in Greater Angola but it has extended this in 2011 to Benguela and Lobito, the country’s larger coastal cities. But as with many of the audience surveys carried out, there is not a rural component. To be fair to Marktest, Angola is a huge country and there are enormous difficulties recruiting skilled staff to carry out the sampling.

The problem here is that radio is both urban and rural and is particularly relevant for mass-market brands like soap and beer. Television used to be almost entirely urban but in several countries is now beginning to acquire rural audiences as access to electricity distribution increases. This outward push of transmission coverage will be part of the process of the transition to digital broadcasting: several countries have increased TV transmission coverage in their plans. It will take time but it’s on its way.

In terms of income and social status, there has been a transition from using the ABCDE social status measurement categories to the Living Standards Measure (known as LSMs). The latter provide a breakdown of income and social status based o a range of variables including ownership of different items (eg a television); patterns of behavior (eg a non-supermarket shopper); and standard of living (access to water and electricity in the household). A key question in all country market assessments is: how big is the middle class? The answer to this question is of great importance to those selling high-end products like cars and mortgages. Unfortunately, much of the survey work does not generate consistent or reliable answers to that question.

In some countries, Africa’s media landscape is fragmenting. There are tens or hundreds of radio stations, tens of TV stations and soon more TV channels on DTT. There are several Pay TV providers with many channels and the Internet is rapidly becoming popular among the urban young. Sampling techniques tend to be less good at tracking behavior below the 0.5 million level which is where many of these fragmented, niche audiences will be.

The lack of both reliable advertising revenues data and audience data are both significant obstacles to the development of the media in Africa. However, with audience data the issue is complicated by several different factors. In those countries without audience data, it is regarded as a costly luxury. But also with the exception of the more successful broadcasters, why would a media owner pay for data that simply demonstrated how relatively small his or her audience was?

Whilst advertising agencies will often “talk a good game” in terms of media planning based on research, the number of agencies that deploy these techniques is much smaller than those who do not. Both advertising agencies and clients are still as likely to be buying on a combination of “gut feel” and friendship networks. Others also talk darkly “off-the-record” about “backhanders” being used to acquire advertising contracts.

Without audience research, the broadcast industry in Africa will not be able to professionalise itself. Buying advertising by “gut feel” is a chance process that favours existing stations rather than newcomers and makes reaching the advertiser’s target audiences as accurate as throwing darts at a dartboard with a blindfold on.

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