Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Hi all,

I've just discovered that this paper has been nominated by the MRS in the Best New Thinking category - thankyou MRS, most appreciated!

Crossed fingers that I win!


Monday, 5 March 2007

Fragvergence - the future of media research

Hi, I am Sam, the Head of Future Media Research at the BBC. On the 23rd of March - tomorrow - I am giving a speech at the Market Research Society. The nerves are beginning to rise, its a huge room! The content of it is below. One of the purposes of the debate was to start a debate on the future of Audience Research in the fast changing media landscape. I hope that this blog can be one place where that debate can begin.

Before I start I shoud mention that the views on this page are my own (and hopefully some of yours too) and do not represent the views of the BBC.

Here is the speech. If you've heard it already, just skip straight to adding your comments. Thanks!

Windows Vista
Apple TV
Virgin Media
The BBC on YouTube

What do these things have in common?

They’ve all launched or been announced in the 2007. We aren’t at the end of March yet! Things are happening fast in the media industry.

Are we as researchers able to cope with this whirlwind of change?

In short I’d say No.

Today we are going to look at the knock on effects of change. I’ll discuss the impact on measurement, talk about possible solutions, and look at the increasing need to work together. But first lets see just what we are facing.

Many of the new products in that list are prime examples of one of the biggest trends we’ve seen in all media in this century. Convergence. Convergence is no longer some theoretical trend that might hit us at some vague point in the future. Its here and its happening now.

Conference etiquette says that I should now tell you the Oxford English Dictionary definition of convergence, but that’s not very 2007 is it? Here is what Wikipedia has to say.

“Convergence of media occurs when multiple products come together to form one product with the advantages of all of them.”

Which implies this diagram here:

But I don’t think that’s what is happening at all. What is happening out there is this:

Wikipedia was wrong. Not one product but thousands of products, launching faster and faster, having shorter lifespans, with more and more functionality, overlapping massively with other products. Not convergence alone, but convergence with massive device fragmentation – fragvergence.

Huge numbers of devices, constantly changing what they can do. Its affecting what users do with their media, and its affecting the type of media they are being offered.

Users are faced with a confusing array of choices. And they are now able to do what has never been possible before, tailor their media to suit their lifestyle. On top of Convergence of Media and Fragmentation of devices, we have third complication – splintering of useage.

Lets take mobile phones as an example.

Almost everyone has one, in fact some people have more than one. The average number of phones per phone owner in the UK is 1.2. And whilst 60% of users only really use their phones for calls and text, 40% of the audience are using many of the other features – but which other features depends on who you are and the lifestyle you lead.

I use my phone to read my e-mails, look at my diary, take videos of my kids birthday parties and programme my Sky + machine remotely. Don’t get cornered with me at a party, I’ll subject you to hundreds of pictures of my adorable kids. I use my phone for these things because I am an overly proud mother with a Sky + box.

You might use your phone to access travel information, read the news from the BBC website, or listen to music. You use your phone for these things because you have a terrible and boring route into work. You need to know just how terrible its going to be today, and you want something to do to take your mind off it.

The point is that although you and I might own the same phone and even work in the same office, our media habits have diverged because our lives are very different. So on top of the fragmentation of device ownership, we have the further splintering of behaviours of users of those devices.

Convergence, Device Fragmentation and Splintered useage.

The proliferation of new devices with new capabilities is also creating a blurring of boundaries between media, and creating new forms of media entirely. Let me ask you a pretty basic question: What is Television in 2007?

Radio stations are available via digital TV. Are they television? No? What if a video of what was happening in the studio were added? Is that television?

The Apprentice was available for download from the BBC Two website last year. Was that television? If your answer was yes because it had already been broadcast on BBC Two, then what about the extra material that hasn’t been broadcast – do they count as television?

1 minute Doctor Who episodes made for mobile – Tardisodes – were made to accompany last years series. Is that television?

Is YouTube television?

The audience answer is of course “We Don’t Care” but this is one of the many challenges that convergence throws down for the research industry.

For the rest of this presentation I’m going to concentrate on three main implications of all this for research:

Measurement - When you can’t distinguish between different media, does it make sense to measure them separately?

Solutions - When the world is so complex, how can we use forward planning and advancing research technology to understand it?

Working together - When the audience is so fragmented, how can we get together to ensure we cover all of it?

Measurement, solutions, working together.

Lets cover measurement first. Why is the question “what is television” important to researchers when it isn’t to the audience? Because BARB measures television.

If something is radio then its RAJAR, if it’s the internet then its Neilsen, Comscore or your return path data. But as we’ve just seen, those distinctions are increasingly obsolete. The audience can consume all of those media on the same device, and its increasingly difficult to tease the media apart.

Advertisers in the audience – how easy is it to track your cross media ad campaign? Do you find it fiddly, annoying, and time consuming? At the BBC we have the same problem when people ask us about BBC reach across TV, Radio and online.

TV deals in overnights, volume and share. Radio deals in quarterly data, usually 15 minute reach based. And the internet depends where you get your data from, but it may be monthly, is usually based on unique users (a non time based form of reach) and page impressions. And they are all gathered in different ways with different methodologies.

Answering something as simple as “what is BBC reach for 16-24 year old adults” can take one of our team over half a day of messing about.

What we are doing is splitting people into their various media and then struggling to put them back together again. As Brian says “We are all individuals”. Shouldn’t we be measuring those individuals as whole beings, not their individual media? I want to measure you and you and you – not TV and Radio and Online.

Let me be clear here. The BBC sits on BARB and RAJAR committees and is totally supportive of both organisations and their excellent work in keeping up to date measuring their respective media. They both do an excellent job of answering the questions that the industry has set them. But when will it be time to change from measuring the media to measuring the person?

My second point more about what we can do now. The very technology that is causing all the problems can often provide the solutions, but only if we plan, anticipate issues, try out new methods.

I think there are two ways forward here –
Inside Out - getting the device or service to be is own measurement and feedback vehicle,
Outside in - using advances in research technology and techniques to get the information and understanding you need.

First, for those involved with new services or devices – Inside Out. We need to think up front about measurement – does the service have a return path, what information will that provide, if its not your return path, who can you get the data from? Can this new data be brought into one of our Joint Industy committees somehow – can the data go straight to the JIC or does it need to be tied in later on?

This isn’t always easy – technology problems or big costs may
intervene. Sometimes you can’t tell what you want to measure until you can see the service or platform in operation. We can’t always anticipate and plan for what we’re going to need pre launch. And so you need plan B

Plan B is Outside In. More and more new technology solutions are being found to old issues and new ones. In the past few months I’ve seen virtual focus groups, SMS phone surveys, and URL trackers (they make a record of your respondents web useage). Using PDA diaries and online surveys has become normal in the past couple of years.

I’m pleased to say the BBC has been pioneering in both of those areas – with the BBC/TNS Daily Life study using PDS’s and the BBC/GfK Pulse panel, our online appreciation panel.

If we want to, we can now send virtual people with virtual clipboards to stand on virtual corners in a virtual world and administer virtual surveys.

Technology is causing the problems, but technology may also be the solution. And some of it is really good fun to do – I think we all get kicks out of trying out something new.

My last point is that we can handle this much better if we work together. Back in the 1990’s the BBC research department could cover TV, Radio and online.

But now we’re struggling to keep up with all of this:

And unless you have a very enviable budget and department size, I reckon you might be facing the same issues as we are.

But perhaps we can work together and learn from each other. TV researchers from different companies work together if their companies have similar objectives. Committees like BARB and RAJAR share knowledge and funds. I’m sure the same is true of other industries.

But as we’ve said, TV isn’t just TV anymore. We need to bring in the maximum number of players, brains, information and frankly money into the process as we can.

We can co-operate in some cases by sharing information, from our own services with each other and the industry. We can co-operate by sharing knowledge – conferences like this help.

Research agencies – please help us to co-operate by producing reports we can buy into, or syndicate research across a wider number of players. Many media players bought into a joint project on PVR’s a couple of years ago. We all wanted to know roughly the same things, why have 5 projects where one will do? The combined brains and money will result in a better project in the end.

We need to build relationships with companies who we may have previously thought weren’t in the same business as us. Thanks to convergence of media, they are now. And as we’ve all come to the same place via different routes, we all have different perspectives to bring to the party.

To sum up, devices are proliferating, media is converging, the audience is now in fragments – I’ve called this Fragvergence. For researchers, it means looking at our measurement systems, working out what solutions we have now and in the future, and coming together to be bigger than the sum of our parts.

But am I right? Do you agree? Well why not tell me.

In the spirit of using technology to solve our issues, and of working together, come along to my blog at some time in the next 3 weeks and tell me. Join in the conversation, give us your view of the research of the future.

One last point before I go. I mentioned things were happening very fast. They are. I need to update that list I gave you already. Playstation 3 launched this morning.

Thankyou for reading my speech - if it sparked any thoughts, please add them to my blog.