1. What is audience research?This book is designed for people working in communications organizations: radio and TVstations, newspapers and other print media, arts companies, orchestras - any group thatcommunicates with the public. Whenever I refer to "publishers," "media," or "stations" Imean all of these. And no matter what you call your audience - listeners, viewers,readers, visitors, subscribers, passengers, or users - the book is about all of these.Audience research is a systematic and accurate way of finding out about your audience.There are two main things that audience research can do:(1) estimate audience sizes, and(2) discover audience preferences.Radio and TV stations are unique in having a special need for audience research: this is theonly industry that cannot accurately count its audience. A factory will always count thenumber of products it sells. A newspaper will (or could) always know its paid circulation.An organization that provides services rather than products (e.g. a hospital) is able toaccurately count the number of people who walk through its doors. But radio andtelevision programs are given away free to their audiences, and there is no way ofmeasuring how many people tune into a program - without audience research.For this reason, audience research was one of the first forms of market research. Whenradio became popular in rich countries in the 1920s, audience research followed soonafterwards. In countries where broadcasters depended on commercial revenue, such asthe USA, audience surveys were done to find out how many people would hear a particularadvertisement.In countries with public radio, such as Britain and New Zealand, audience research beganin the 1930s, seeking information from listeners. New Zealand’s first audience survey wasin 1932. Postcard questionnaires were sent out to households with radio licenses, askingquestions such as "Do you listen on a crystal set or a valve set?" and "Do you dance tobroadcast dance music?"Since those days, audience research has moved far beyond radio and television. Thecurrent growth area is internet audience research. And, though printed publications havereaders rather than audiences, the same methods apply.Methods of audience researchThe most common method of audience research is the survey: a group of people isselected, they are all asked the same questions, and their answers are counted. But as
well as surveys, there are many other methods of audience research, includingobservation, mechanical measurement (people-meters) and qualitative research. The firstpart of this book deals with surveys, and the second part covers most of the othermethods.Audience research methods can be applied for any activity with audiences: not only radioand television stations, but also print media, artistic activities, and (most recently) theinternet. The methods described in this book apply to all of these, as well as to the studyof societies (social research) and economic behaviour (market research).Audience research, social research,and market researchAudience research, social research, and market research share a common body ofmethods, with slight variations. So when you know how to do audience research, you willalso know how to carry out many types of market research and social research.2.Audience research and management systemsThe importance of feedbackFor any activity to be carried out well, some form of feedback is needed. Try walking withyour eyes shut, and you will soon bump into something. Even without your thinking aboutit, the feedback from your eyes is used to correct your steps. In the same way, anyorganization that does not keep its eyes open is likely to meet with an accident.In the media industries, the equivalent to walking is broadcasting the programs. Theequivalent of watching where you are going is audience research.But when you are walking, you are doing more than simply move your legs, and watchwhere you are going. You will also have decided where you are walking to. Depending onwhat you see, you will adjust your steps in the desired direction. And of course, at anytime you may change your direction of walking.Whether the activity is walking or broadcasting, you can draw a diagram of a "feedbackloop", like this:
In recent years, the study of management methods has produced a system known as"strategic management." It follows the principles shown in the above diagram. Notice thebottom box, labelled "Get information on results of action". Audience research is part ofthat box.The importance of knowing what youre doing, and why youre doing itAround the 1970s, some international aid programs had problems knowing exactly whythey were doing some projects. Though a project might seem like a good idea, what was itactually achieving? To help answer this question, many aid agencies adopted a systemcalled the Logical Framework, or a similar system called Object-Oriented Project Planning(ZOPP, in German).The Logical FrameworkThe Logical Framework method (Log Frame for short) begins by creating a hierarchy ofgoals. It works like this:1. State the main goal that you want the project to accomplish. For example, to eliminate malaria in a region.2. Then consider what other goals will need to be achieved to meet the first goal. In thecase of the anti-malaria project, the three objectives could be: a. to encourage people to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes; b. to make anti-malarial drugs readily available c. to eliminate malaria-carrying mosquitoes.3. Now consider what must to be achieved to meet each of those goals…and so on. Tocontinue the anti-malaria example, the goals for 2a could include a1. making anti-mosquito equipment widely available a2. encouraging people to wear enough clothing at times when mosquitoes are feeding a3. advising people on how to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.The process continues, adding more and more levels. The highest levels are part of theinitial plan. The lower levels are activities rather than goals. At the lowest possible level,
a worker on the project might work towards goal a1 by visiting a particular school on aparticular day, and giving the teachers information that could be used in lessons..The whole structure can be drawn like a tree, with the single main goal at the bottom,and each branch dividing into more and more goals, objectives, strategies, aims, purposes,or activities. No matter what these are labelled, they are all a type of plan. (With the treeanalogy, notice that the trunk is what youd call the highest level - its really an upside-down tree.)This tree-like approach works well for a project with a very specific goal, such as the anti-malaria campaign. But organizations with audiences usually dont have a single mainpurpose. Many of them have several purposes, which are not clearly defined: nothing assimple and as measurable as "reduce the level of malaria in this region." For publiccompanies, its a little easier: in many countries their stated goal is to maximize the valueof their shares. At least, thats what they say: but in many cases their shareholders coulddo better if the organization was closed down and the money invested in a more profitableconcern. My own theory, after observing what really happens, is that the primary purposeof any organization is to survive.And for an organization with audiences, its primary purpose (after survival) is to becreative: to provide enough entertaining, inspiring, informative, and educational materialthat its audience will stay with it - and the organization will survive..For example, a radio station may decide to broadcast a program about how to avoidcatching malaria. The programs purpose for the anti-malaria campaign is clear, but whatpurpose does it serve for the station? The station could say "we are broadcasting thisprogram because we like to spend an hour a week on public health" - but why is that? Infact, broadcasting a program will probably serve a number of different purposes, becauseorganizations with audiences usually have multiple, fuzzy, and overlapping goals.To check that the tree-hierarchy makes sense, you can create an intent structure. This isdone in the opposite way from forming the hierarchy of goals. You begin at the top levelof the tree (the leaves, not the trunk). For each activity, consider "Why should we do this?What will it achieve?"For most organizations with audiences, their logical framework diagrams wont look liketrees, because each activity (program, article, etc) will serve several purposes. A treecovered in cobwebs might be a better example.To complete the Logical Framework, several questions have to be answered for each goaland sub-goal:- What resources are required to achieve this purpose?
- What constraints may prevent it; under what conditions will it succeed?- How will its success be evaluated?This last question is where audience research comes in. Most activities of an organizationwith an audience cant be evaluated without doing audience research.The need for audience researchIf you have an audience, and you don’t do audience research, this is equivalent to walkingwith your eyes shut. But many organizations (even those with audiences) survive withoutdoing audience research. How do they survive?