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Factors That Can Have an Effect on Survey Results:

A Look at the RAMS Survey


It is well-known that there are an enormous number of factors that can affect the outcome of a media audience sample survey.

Some of these factors are time sensitive and may only have an influence if it coincides with the fieldwork period of the survey. Others are as a result of planned or unplanned changes to the survey such as changes in sampling, weighting, the scope of the survey, a change in contractors or a change in methodology.

Some of the most difficult ones to predict or to quantify are those that are completely extraneous to the survey such as macro economic factors on the one hand, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, changes that are made at some of the individual media that are being measured. Here one must consider editorial and programme changes, new presenters or DJ’s, and a myriad other things. All of these can have significant and sometimes long term effects on audiences and it is important that they should be considered when looking at audience figures.

So let’s have a look at some of those factors that can have an effect on the radio survey RAMS.

During an average year, a number of changes will be noticed when looking at the RAMS releases:

1. Annual Universe Update

In October, the adult universe for the survey is updated using the latest population estimates as prepared by demographers contracted by SAARF and based on the latest AMPS data.

A population update is done for us on an annual basis by demographers because the census figures which form the base of all quantitative research in the country is done only once every 10 years and those of the previous census conducted in 2001 are now outdated.

In order to stay current as far as this important aspect is concerned, results from the 2001 census plus other sources of information such as the number of babies born in the past years, deaths, emigration, the AIDS pandemic, migration, etc. are taken and complex models are then used to determine the best estimate of the South African population nationally, provincially as well as down to magisterial level.

Naturally these changes are not uniform over the whole of South Africa and can therefore lead to greater changes in certain geographical areas than others. For example, it can also lead to changes in the population profile of certain areas (e.g. those areas most affected by AIDS).

All of this can naturally have an effect on audiences of certain media.

2. Bi-annual Small Town/Village & Rural Update

It must be remembered that RAMS is a truly national survey and is conducted from the Cape to the Limpopo and from the east coast to the west.

However, due to the cost of doing research in the far-flung rural areas, data from these areas are collected throughout the year in such a way that we can only update the information twice a year depending on funding. Currently, these updates happen in April and again in October of every year.


When these updates take place, noticeable changes may be observed after every update as half a year’s changes go into each of these updates.

However, six-monthly updates ensure more up-to-date data as well as less noticeable stepwise changes than was the case when SAARF had to do annual updates due to funding considerations.

3. Changes in Methodology

From time to time changes in methodology are made to ensure that we stay current with developments, not only in research, but also in the markets that we operate in. In addition, the needs of our stakeholders are continuously changing and this must be taken into account as well.

However, because such changes can have the effect that trend lines are broken, SAARF tries to do methodological changes only when necessary. The previous big change in the RAMS methodology was approximately 5 years ago, when we changed from 2 releases per year to 6 and introduced flooding in large urban areas. In 2009 we introduced national flooding (thus not just in large urban areas but everywhere) and at the same time we reduced the interview age for adults from 16+ to 15+.

Flooding is a methodology where radio diaries are given to all adults in every household instead of the old practice of using only one respondent per household.

From previous experience we know that flooding leads to a slight once off change in ratings but has (especially in developing countries) the enormous advantage of pushing up the sample to way more diaries than the industry would have been able to afford. Flooding has enabled us to move from about 25 000 to just over 60 000 diaries a year.

4. Change in Contractor and Other Effects

Changes in contractors always lead to changes in the outcome of a media audience survey. Unfortunately these changes are very difficult to predict and depending on research design, not always easy to pinpoint.

Worldwide this is one of those aspects that countries battle with as frequent changes in contractors can play havoc with currency surveys which should by nature be stable and credible.

Using more than one contractor increases cost and complicates the execution of the research with very little real advantage to the industry.

SAARF has changed back to the use of one contractor from 2009 due to the cost of having two contractors and this could have had an influence on results of the RAMS survey (albeit a small one) at the time.

In the AMPS audit conducted by international media research expert Erhard Meier during 2007, he refers to the so-called “contractor effect”. He notes that he could not find this effect in AMPS and that this survey is a high quality survey.

Remember also that the RAMS diary is a self-completion diary and thus interviewer effects are minimized.

The current contractor has been involved in the RAMS survey since its inception, and the survey has proven through the years to be world-class. Erhard Meier also audited the RAMS Survey in 2006 and found it better in certain respects than surveys in some first world countries.

5. Unusual Events during Fieldwork Period Such As Sporting Events, Elections, Etc.

During the fieldwork for the 2009 and 2010 releases of RAMS, numerous events happened which could have had an effect on the consumption of media and products, such as the Soccer World Cup.

In addition, seasonal effects are also sometimes visible when analysing radio consumption throughout the year.

6. Competing Media and Other Activities

One can never look at a medium such as radio in isolation.

Other media and especially television can have a large influence on radio listening. During major sporting events for example, one can very often see an increase in television viewing and a concomitant reduction in radio listening.

Over the past year or so, there have been large increases in television viewing while time spent on radio listening has been reducing.

However, the large increase in television viewing especially in small urban/rural areas (according to both AMPS and TAMS) is not just due to special events, but is also driven by increased TV ownership which in turn is a direct result of the successful electrification of South Africa.

It is also clear that the use of computers and the internet (especially social media) as well as numerous electronic devices are consuming more and more time of listeners and are already having an effect on the consumption of other media.

7. Extraneous Factors

South Africa and the world are in the throes of an economic downturn that is much stronger than anticipated and many stakeholders do not quite understand the extent of this dilemma.

Over the past three years or so, about 2 000 000 South Africans lost their jobs. This affected the lives of millions of family members as well as extended family. Household income came under pressure for the first time in many years and the effect of this surely impacted on media and product consumption.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that this is not over yet and that it may take longer than expected for the recovery to kick in.

In a communication received from Professor Carel van Aardt of the BMR he says that according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey conducted by Stats South Africa, nearly half a million jobs were lost just in the 2nd to the 3rd quarter of 2009.

He says that “If you add that to the nearly half a million who lost their jobs during the first two quarters of this year (2010) and the 200 000 jobs lost during 2008 we are looking at about 1.2 million job losses since the onset of the recession.

If that is true, we are in much more dire straits than many analysts estimated/predicted. The 700 000 job losses during the period June 2008 to June 2009 are in line with the recently published AMPS 2009 figures. But a further half a million jobs during the third quarter was unexpected.

Its effect on personal and household incomes, on household consumption expenditure and GDP growth in SA (with household consumption expenditure explaining about two thirds of GDP) is going to be huge.”

8. Internal Changes at Radio Stations

8.1 Changes in Station Name and /or Station Announcement

Changes in the station name or the station announcement must be done with care and only after careful planning and consideration as it will surely have an effect on the number of listeners. Such changes must be kept to a minimum, and need to be carefully implemented and managed to minimize damage. The importance of regular on-air station announcements (especially after a name change) cannot be overemphasized.

It is also important to make sure that the name that is included in the RAMS Diary is the one that is used to identify the station on-air. This will ensure that respondents will find the station name they hear when they listen to the station, and claim it in the diary. If the station’s name does change for some reason, it is very important to make sure that the SAARF and the RAMS contractor are notified of the change.

8.2 Programming and Other Changes

Radio listening is a habitual activity. Most often listeners stick with a limited number of favourite stations and in fact, South Africans listen to only 2.1 stations on average. When there is any change in what they hear, even a small one, this could put the listener off. Programme changes, changes in presenters or DJ’s and any other change that could have an impact on listeners must be carefully managed.

Moving a programme to a new timeslot or changing the presenter may also lead to declines, because people may not be aware of the change. They could have missed the announcements telling listeners of the change, or may just not have been paying attention. When they tune into the station, they will hear something different to what they expected, and could then switch off or move to another station. The radio station runs the risk of losing listeners who may not be aware that their programme still exists but have been changed.

Even if the station does research and then decides on constructive change, there may be an initial decline. It is important to make regular announcements, before and after a change, to ensure that listeners know about it. Even so, it takes a long time for people to change their habits and adapt. It could take as long as 12-18 months for the full effects of a significant adjustment to reveal itself, and even longer for the listenership to stabilise again.

If it is necessary to make any changes – in programming, staff, broadcast area or the station name – it is very important to make sure listeners know about the changes. Any changes must be backed up by a focused marketing drive that raises awareness in the station’s target market. This could be in the form of flyers, adverts in the local newspaper, billboards, a road-show, competitions, notices on Facebook or the station’s website. What is important is that the station gets the word out, and that the message is widely circulated over a lengthy time period. Naturally where there is a change in footprint, it is important to make people that now fall inside the footprint aware of the stations existence.

9. Beware of Red Herrings (Something that is not relevant that takes your attention away from what you should be concentrating on)

One of the biggest problems with research is that it often produces results that are not quite what we expected. One can argue that if this was not the case, then there would not be a need for research! However, because of this, users often fall for the Red Herring that we hear most often at SAARF: There must be something wrong with the research.

The result of this is that instead of trying to establish what the research is telling us, we are so fixated on trying to prove the research wrong, that we omit to do what we really should be doing – namely to try and find out what the research is telling us so that we can fix whatever needs to be fixed.

Station managers and other staff at a radio station are the best people to analyse what is happening at a specific station because they are the ones that decide on changes to programming, presenters, etc. It is thus necessary for them to go back 18 months or even two years and look at all of the changes that happened at the station to try and determine why there is a change in the audience figures.

Very often it will be necessary to do a couple of focus groups to find out what listeners are thinking to assist the station management to address the situation correctly.

However, the most difficult change is to change your mindset from, “There must be something wrong with the research,” to “Maybe the research is telling us something and we must find out what it is!”

10. Summary

As can be seen from the above, it is not always easy to pinpoint those factors that could have had an effect on media audience movements.

Neither is it easy to decide to what extent (if any) these factors individually influenced audience movements.

In studying media audience figures the following questions must be asked:

1. What are the changes that we have made at the station over the past year or so?

2. What did we change as far as editorial/programming is concerned?

3. Did we move programmes to other time slots?

4. Did we introduce new programmes?

5. Did we change announcers or DJ’s?

6. How well do we market our station? Do people know about our station?

7. Are the audience movements statistically significant? (Go to's%20Guide.pdf to learn more about and calculate significant differences).

8. What percentage of my listeners falls outside of the large urban areas and could have been affected by the small town/village/rural update? Remember that these updates are done in April and October every year.

9. Did the universe update have any significant effect in my region?

10. What about sporting events, elections, etc. that could have affected audience behaviour?

11. Did TV viewing increase? What about the effect of new media and other electronic devices such as play stations, I-Pods, I-Pads, etc., on the behaviour of my listeners?

12. Were there any changes to the research that could have influenced the outcome of the survey?

13. What about extraneous factors such as an economic downturn and accompanying job losses that could have had an effect on media consumption?


Copyright 2017