Is it time to evolve how TV networks measure success?

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 29 November 2016

TV ratings are independently audited by OzTam, providing the market with assurance the figures are 100% robust. However, when presented to the market, TV networks each have their own ways of measuring success, providing a positive spin on the figures to suit their individual needs.

As was revealed yesterday, Seven prefers to combine metropolitan and regional ratings across all demographics, and as Australia’s most watched TV network, it might because it is the undisputed king of total viewers.

Nine focuses only on metropolitan figures in people 25-54, 18-49, 16-59 and grocery buyer with a child, arguing that for it only these demos matter as that is how advertising is sold.

Meanwhile Ten segments metropolitan prime time as between 6pm and 10.30pm when its tent pole shows all run.

But wouldn't a single measure of success provide a much clearer picture of how networks have really performed rather than this mixed bag approach?

Seven West Media chief revenue officer Kurt Burnette accepts that a unified approach “would be good”.

“The fact of the matter is we have the most robust measurement but the make-up of the components of that, I think it would be good if there was one version of the truth,” he tells AdNews.

“The competitive nature of our business means that people are finding good news in the stories they have in front of them and there is good news for everybody at some point, whichever way you look at it, but having clearly defined rules of success going forward would be helpful, yes.”

Nine chief of sales Michael Stephenson also points to the competitive nature of the industry and that “everyone is looking for a point of differentiation”.

Ditch ratings season

Stephenson would also like the industry to do away with the ratings season and believes a calendar year approach makes more sense.

“From my perspective, I think that we should get judged from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, across all four channels from the minute we start broadcasting to the minute we stop every single day against the key three demographics advertisers buy,” he tells AdNews.

“I think advertisers are interested in whether we can deliver the biggest audience in the right demographic for the full year across all of our channels and day parts.”

In truth, TV networks have long recognised the importance of a strong summer slate, particularly in the lead up to a ratings year, which always begins in week 7.

Each network has a solid sports property in January to build up a head of ratings steam prior to season kick off. Seven's Australian Open tennis tournament, Ten's KFC Big Bash League and Nine's Summer of Cricket are also used as promotion platforms for new shows.

Multiscreen measures needed

Another important change that both Burnette and Stephenson have flagged is evolving ratings to measure eyeballs across multiple screens as the boundaries between TV and digital continue to blur. This was recently emphasised by Seven's 'Total Video' approach to content and each of the networks revealing announcements in the digital media space at their respective upfront events.

“Our strategy has changed over time as the consumption of media has changed,” Stephenson points out. “We aim to create amazing content distributed broadly across every single screen to deliver the best possible audiences and give advertisers the best opportunity to communicate messages to that content.”

“It has changed because we are not a linear broadcaster any more, we create content that is distributed anywhere. 2.3 million people have already downloaded 9Now. The amount of people viewing live stream or video on demand is increasing every month. As cross platform measurement evolves you are going to see a lot more of that.”

Burnette believes that ratings need to look beyond the consolidated seven day period to consider the true value of content over its lifecycle.

“Why is a great drama like Secret Daughter not recognised for the same value that it delivers after 14 days,” he questions. “It’s high engagement, brand safe but just happens to be 14 days after telecast. That’s one of the big change we will start to see in the next 12 to 18 months, shows being recognised for what they are over longer periods as providing valuable advertising space.”

He would also like to see a robust and transparent scorecard that reports across the multiple screens.

“That is one of the biggest components we are working on and hope to change for next year not just from a Seven perspective but a TV industry perspective,” he adds.

Let's evolve attribution

Interestingly, Burnette believes that more work needs to be done to measure the “true attribution of what is driving the sale and what is driving the brand”.

“To this point there seems to be a fair few assumptions made and there needs to be more fact based information given or understood,” he says. “It’s starting to happen, but just needs to happen faster.”

Tomorrow’s ReThink TV event is one step in the right direction. At tomorrow's event new research will be revealed that tackle this exact issue, including a study done by Dr Karen Nelson Field that applies cutting edge AI technology to better understand the value of TV as an advertising platform, with a focus on viewer attention.

The way TV ratings success is measured will inevitably change in the coming year as more content is delivered digitally to consumers anywhere at anytime.

And as digital media companies are under increasing to find a credible and consistent approach to their metrics, TV companies may also need to find a single version of the truth in the way they present their numbers in the future.

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