Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
In life, some things we take for granted, because we’re used to them and don’t have to think about them. And then something changes, not necessarily for the better. And the questions start. Which is exactly what has happened with our theme this week – television audience measurement.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, a little more than a year ago, TV viewing figures jumped sharply. People were shut in at home but still needed access to information about what was going on. With news reporting, some media may be faster than TV, but none have its credibility. And, once TV has sated our information needs, it also offers entertainment, a show, a film, something to soften the blows coronavirus has rained down upon us. Since we at Media Marketing follow the media and advertising in the Adriatic region, at the end of last year we decided to focus our attention on TV to see if we could figure out what was going on with TV advertising and how audiences were being measured to let advertisers know what their money was being invested in and what impact it was having. With budgets shrinking, every cent in advertising counts and TV audience measurement is becoming even more important.
They all have the same right to truth!
Everybody on the communication market, broadly understood, from advertisers, through agencies and media, to our customers (the public and individual consumers), has a legal, regulatory, and ethical obligation to abide by a common set of fully accessible ground rules and operational models.
By their very nature (and sometimes even for manipulative reasons), the media play an active role in forming audience perceptions. They produce content to satisfy their viewers’ diverse requirements and so compete for their attention. They earn their revenue either by broadcasting marketing for advertisers to the end consumer and/or charging their viewers for content.
Marketing agencies generally find themselves positioned as an expert interface between the advertiser and the media whose goal is to create marketing messages that elicit the desired perception of a given product or service in the customer and to come up with the most effective media mix to get that message across to the target group.
Advertisers want to maximise economic and social impact (results) and need the media to provide them with viewers and agencies to create effective messaging and place it on effective channels on the best terms.
The elephant in the room is that everyone involved has an interest in self-oriented behaviour, except of course the viewer/consumer. Which is why we all start – even legally speaking – from the generally accepted position that everyone has the same right to the truth and to access the full range of what’s on offer and to free choice. This is so important that the advanced societies all have established legal and regulatory mechanisms for applying these principles, elaborated to meet the specific characteristics of particular industries and social sectors.
Measuring television audiences is an extremely important link in the process of measuring the effectiveness of advertising. Advertisers simply have to know how effective their investment in television advertising is, who their money is going to, how many individual viewers are being reached, what their profile is, on what TV channels, and how many points of contact have been made and what the quality of those contacts is, as well as what and how their competitors are advertising, et cetera.
You can’t manage communication effectively without feedback, which is to say without adequate and accurate measurement of advertising reach or monitoring of programming and advertising content. Good practice requires regulations, rules, independent data, and an independent expert assessor of measurement, which is to say external monitoring. The socially and economically adequate functioning of all involved requires transparent, common, unambiguous standards of reporting and evaluation, entailing:
Relevance – a requirement to respond accurately to the real needs of participants, and
Universality of application – ensuring all participants are informed of the value of the measured data and can use it for neutral and accurate comparison of how different TV channels are performing. Such market-verified data on TV ratings are a form of currency, insofar as they provide the basis for determining the value of advertising slots on TV channels (analogous to monetary currency).
All of which speaks to the importance of transparency and of respect for the legal regulation of market processes and for abiding by regulatory guidelines. As this suggests, the final goal is to protect the ultimate customer – the public and the consumer. Because of the social imperative of consumer protection, there is no alternative to applying a system of standardised monitoring. As a market-based industry, TV is subject to such monitoring and measurement all around the world. Choosing between providers of measurement services generally comes down to choosing between those capable of offering tailored but standardised forms of measurement that offer full coverage of the market. Any other approach leads to distorted results and is of limited applicability.
So, what is the current situation on the market? Let us have a look at how things stand with TV audience measurement and verification in Serbia and Croatia, the two largest advertising markets in the Adriatic region.
The Belgrade weekly VREME carried a report on November 19, 2020, under the headline Race to the bottom for that extra click, with analysis of the situation of the media industry in Serbia. In the author’s view, the media have become tabloid unprofessional promoters of propaganda, fake news, hatred, and intolerance… Inaccurate and sensationalist titles, everyday recourse to unacceptable cover pages, as the highest circulation (most watched, most listened to, and most read) media focus on clickbait at the expense of the public interest, are just part of his description of the mainstream Serbian media scene today.
We’ll restrict ourselves to TV audience measurement, as the theme of our text. Investment in television advertising is particularly high and advertisers are especially interested in ratings data, to help them invest their money. In principle, measuring audience share of TV programmes involves the following business model: having a body that issues the measurement licence on behalf of the advertising industry and a measurer. There should thus be a JIC- Joint Industry Committee – with responsibility for supervision and operational adjustment, which is, again in principle, a joint body of the advertising industry that brings together media, advertisering, and agency representatives.
According to Dr Galjina Ognjanova and Dr Sanja Mitić of Belgrade University’s Economics Faculty, in their Report on Models for Organising Media Measurement, published last year, there are two models for creating a JIC: one where the body has a supervisory role and verifies the measurement data without ownership over it and the second, where the JIC organises both the research and the supervision, so it has ownership over the data and decides independently on how to disseminate it.
As Prof Galjina Ognjanov told VREME, “These data represent the standard and the entire industry stands behind it. You don’t get problems of the sort we see in Serbia and on other markets, where there are multiple data-providers, each with its own methodology. The data then differ depending on the methodology and are not comparable. You end up not knowing exactly what’s happening on the market, because nobody has come and said – look, this is the standard for our market, what we accept as correct.”
She points out that there is a lack of cooperation in Serbia between the media houses and that bodies like the JIC can only function where there is broad consensus between all those involved in the system, but especially the media, who have to take the initiative in founding such bodies.
According to Predrag Lozović, director of the Serbian subsidiary of Nielsen Audience Measurement, the world leader in TV audience measurement, TV audience measurement enjoys an advantage “other research sectors may envy”, namely the existence of an internationally accepted standard. “Respect for this standard, which was developed and put in place by auditors and companies that are world level authorities in the field, is an absolute priority for us and we apply it in our daily work.” Lozović goes on to say that a JIC will only be formed in Serbia when the market has matured and the various players on the media market – the media, advertisers, and agencies – all get around the same table and find a common interest.
According to VREME, one hears a lot of back-and-forth in Serbia over which show or television station has the largest audience share. Predrag Šarenac, strategy and research manager at Media House, says this is because of different parameters being stressed. “There’s share (i.e. what percentage of the total number of people watching TV at a given time were watching your program), reach, and ratings (what percentage of the total sample were watching your program), and then each broadcaster focuses on the parameter that suits them best a given time and that’s what they publish. So, in principle they’re not lying if they say, for example, that 2.5 million people watched a particular program. But they are generally publishing reach, which means that 2.5 million people watched that program for at least one minute. How many of those people watched it for only one minute and how many watched a larger segment of it, we just don’t know, even if that is what we should be interested in. Instead, they just publish the largest number they have and let the television stations quarrel over it,” Šarenac told VREME, adding: “I have been hearing about this problem with measurement since 2002. So long as the ratings are going up, there’s no problem and ratings growth is down to the editor’s genius. Once the ratings start to fall, it’s not the editors who are at fault, however, it’s the people measuring viewership. And it’s always the same players in the game, for almost 18 years now, and it’s become totally pointless.”
Since 2003, the AGB Nielsen company has been providing a TV audience measurement service based on a nationally representative panel (modelled on the entire population and made up of target groups determined by the various clients/media, agencies, and advertisers, in line with their needs) and advertisement monitoring in Croatia. AGB Nielsen measures viewership for all TV channels on all platforms – DVB-T2, IPTV, cable, satellite – which is particularly important for ensuring representative data and stable data delivery 365 days a year. Also active in Croatia are TVbeat and Adscanner, companies that aggregate feedback from set-top boxes (STB) in households, but only one of them working with the STBs of each individual Telecom occasions provider. This feedback is gathered at the level of the STBs, rather than directly from the TV device itself (which is a precondition for TV viewership metrics). The technology has not yet passed verification by the expert revisor or certification. This type of monitoring does give some insight into the use of STBs in selected households but does not provide a representative nationwide picture. Because the feedback is limited to just one telecom provider, the data is distorted, as the sample isn’t representative and there’s no insight into viewership in terms of target demographics.
HTV UNDERMINES THE PRINCIPLE OF JOINT MONITORING
Representatives of HTV, NOVA TV, RTL and HURA founded an association called UMGT in Croatia with a mandate to audit current official measurement and develop clear guidelines for TV audience measurement methodology for future use, given the rapid technological development of the TV industry, and to choose the best measurer with the capacity to continuously supply relevant daily data on TV viewership. UMGT was thus established with a view to creating and protecting the definition of the market currency in Croatia.
Unfortunately, after UMGT had been operating for just a few monts, the principle of joint monitoring was unexpectedly undermined, to the shared shock of advertisers and the agencies, when HTV quit the transparent official measurement system. The other members of UMTG then expressed their lack of confidence in HTV and voted for it to be excluded from any further work of the UMGT.
As a public broadcaster, HTV has clear social obligations, which place major requirements on its programming. Just like their commercial fellows, public TV stations have to compete for the attention of the public with good programming. The commercial broadcasters have to provide programming that appeals to target groups that are attractive to advertisers, while HTV, as a public service, also has to provide informative, educational, and entertaining programming that appeals both to the public at large and to individual target groups (e.g. the elderly, children, minorities, et cetera). All TV broadcasters therefore require relevant data on who is watching them when, for how long, and what other programs they go to when they switch channels. It is precisely on the basis of such comparative analysis that properly trained programme editors make scheduling decisions. The regulator also needs this data to publish its unbiased monitoring of whether a channel is meeting its programming guidelines, which in the case of HRT is governed by a contract between the broadcaster and the government. Understanding the public interest is key for public broadcasting and whether or not it is meeting its function as a public service – and its obligations towards the legislator and the viewer, particularly given that HTV’s annual income from the TV licence is 1.2 billion Kuna or €160 million. To put this in perspective, the combined value of all TV advertising campaigns broadcast in a given year is 700 million Kuna.
Up until April 2020, HTV participated in official TV audience measurement and there were viewership results for all four HTV channels which could be compared with viewership figures for the other TV channels. Its decision to withdraw meant HTV was no longer visible in the transparent measurement system and relying on feedback from one of the telecom providers with IPTV and cable TV services.
A RECIPE FOR DRIVING AWAY ADVERTISERS
Good programming is exceptionally expensive, so one might reasonably suppose HTV would try to maximise attention from advertisers and advertising revenue. But no – HTV has not managed to use more than 50% of the time legally allowed for advertising, with a necessary reduction in either the quality or the volume of its programming, at the expense of its financer of last resort – the Croatian public.
By exiting the joint monitoring and advertising programme HTV made the position of advertisers more difficult, driving them away through its un-transparent ways. This is compounded by its implementation of a sales model based on second of advertising time (rather than ratings) and its avoidance of precise concrete socio-demographic data on actual viewers. This is an unusual choice for a broadcaster that once promoted transparent monitoring. The first initiatives to introduce a Peoplometre took place under the leadership of the then marketing director Kruno Novak, and for years after a standardised method for audience measurement was introduced HTV charged by ratings. Today HTV simply cannot say whether it is giving advertiser the contact they need with their target audience.
It is interesting that, no doubt for the reasons outlined above, HTV’s advertiser profile is somewhat different from other broadcasters and its share of total advertising broadcast has been shrinking year-on-year, so that revenue from advertising was just 5.3% of total revenue in 2019.
HTV is the only public broadcaster in the wider region to have abandoned the measurement system that acts as market currency. In fact, the national public broadcasters in both Serbia and Slovenia sell advertising space on the basis of ratings with the target demographics, just like the commercial broadcasters do, and are naturally part of the measurement system, which represents the currency on their markets.
The market clearly needs a reliable common monitoring system that meets EU and world standards. UMGT should be the guarantor of shared monitoring standards applied by everyone involved in marketing – advertisers, agencies, and media. Moreover, any recipients of public monies must apply common, truthful, transparent, and comparable forms of data, concepts, and reporting, to ensure that viewers are not being misled (or their money misapplied). The advertiser must be able to choose which channels to use for advertising on the basis of consistent and comparable profiles for the same type of service, without being manipulated through the partial presentation of data – with the key here being common data that functions as the market currency.
Any of us who have been active in the industry for a longer period of time know well that the best way is what’s fairest to the largest number of partners, because that’s how the industry grows. If creativity is necessarily a pillar, well, data, and that means measurement, are equally important. Which is the main reason we will have to continue focusing serious attention on audience measurement.
We will return to this theme tomorrow, under the rubric of Theme of the Week, when we present commentary from representatives of other broadcasters and advertisers on how they assess the market for TV advertising and TV audience measurement.