The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has announced that it has resigned from the South African Audience Research Foundation, an action supported by its two powerful free-to-air broadcast members, the SABC and

In an unprecedented move this week, and SABC issued a joint statement saying their main reason for standing behind the NAB’s action was the Saarf board’s refusal to give broadcasters more seats on the board. (Broadcasters have two seats at present, and lobbied for six.)

They are also unhappy about a recent audit of Saarf’s Television Audience Measurement Survey (TAMS), which provides the daily audience ratings for television viewership of all television broadcasters in the country.

Executive director of the NAB, Nadia Bulbulia, told The Media Online the organisation would work closely with Saarf while the relationship winds down, culminating in the contract ending in December 2014. She said NAB had presented a proposal to increase its number of seats on the Saarf board at its Annual General Meeting on 26 June.

“The membership were given an opportunity to think about it and at the end of the day, voted against it,” she said. “We will continue to work closely with Saarf and fulfil our obligations but in the longer term, we need to look robustly and carefully into what’s best for the industry and our members”.

Bulbulia said it was still “early days” in redefining how broadcast research should be dealt with “going forward” but that the NAB worked within the parameters of “industry consensus”. “We all want to do what is best for the industry”, she said, adding that they would work together to plot the best course of action. She said she’d also suggested to Saarf that it “looks closely at radio research too”.

The SABC and, in their statement, were clear on their intentions post 2014. “The SABC and look forward to initiating consultations with other advertiser-supported broadcasters with a view to establishing an industry research body that is sensitive to the fast-changing demographics of South Africa and that treats all South African audiences with equal importance. The SABC and firmly believe that this will be to the benefit of all stakeholders in the broadcasting industry as South Africa moves to a digital free-to-air market,” they said.

Saarf CEO Paul Haupt responded to The Media Online’s questions with a statement, saying the organisation and its members were “extremely disappointed at the proposed resignation of the NAB from Saarf”.

“Saarf wants to state unequivocally that it was not the Saarf board that refused the NAB proposal for greater representation of broadcast media on the Saarf board. Saarf members asked the NAB for extra time (two weeks) to consult their constituencies and to evaluate other options before meeting again with the NAB to try and resolve the issue amicably and to get a consensus decision from all Saarf stakeholders.

“The NAB refused and insisted that the matter be put to the vote knowing well that they could not get the 75% majority required for the approval of a special resolution to change the Saarf Memorandum of Incorporation. At no stage did the other Saarf stakeholders indicate that they were not prepared to consider the request with an open mind – in fact they stated the opposite more than once during the discussions,” he said.

Haupt said Saarf has been the “custodian of all industry audience measurement for 39 years and the measurement of television and radio has been an important part of its activities”.

But the free-to-air broadcasters are not convinced. They say Saarf had more than enough time to address their concerns over the Saarf TAMS audit, and the reasons why the audit was conducted in the first place.

“Television broadcasters called for the audit of the TAMS Panel after they noticed serious shortcomings in the TAMS ratings during the course of last year. The SABC and had experienced an inexplicable fall in ratings in certain LSM (living standard measures) groups, particularly LSM 4 to LSM 6, which constitutes the lower to middle income South Africans who are the largest consumers of free-to-air television,” they said.

They say Saarf:

Failed to keep up with the evolving South African demographic profile
Only partially measured certain homes
Failed to balance the panel by individual LSM
Failed to properly maintain the household meters used to gather the TAMS information
Failed to manage the declining efficiency of the panel.
All of the above-mentioned failures resulted in unstable data from primarily lower LSM households.

“The essential effect of the findings was that upper income television households were over-represented on the TAMS Panel as compared to middle-to-lower income television households that were significantly under-represented.

“ In the South African context, this effectively translates into an over-representation of white television viewership and a serious under-representation of black television viewership. Not only is this morally unacceptable in South Africa in 2013, it has a direct financial impact on the free-to-air broadcasters who broadcast programming to the majority of South Africans.

“Of even more concern to the SABC and was that this state of affairs had been on-going for many years without any intervention from Saarf executive management,” they said.

Haupt said Saarf would respond in full at a later date to these accusations, but that, “The news release disseminated by the SABC and contains serious inaccuracies and Saarf will respond in full to the allegations and inaccurate interpretation of the audit findings”.

In the meantime, and the SABC says they are “still calculating the loss of advertising income experienced as a result of the failures of the TAMS Panel but it is estimated to run at hundreds of millions of rands”.

The free-to-air broadcasters said Saarf has not taken their concerns seriously, despite efforts to engage with them. They say the issues did not receive the “urgent attention” from Saarf, which they demand.

Echoing Bulbulia’s sentiments, they said they “act in good faith to ensure the continuity of television research under Saarf while alternatives are being established”.

Source: The Media Online – Glenda Nevill