OPINION: Popularity contests and why we need new judging criteria

Tony Woodward
By Tony Woodward | 2 December 2013
Vizeum business director Tony Woodward.

Popularity contests have been a mainstay in our lives for a long time now. From the Roman Gladiators through to American beauty pageants over 2,000 years later, the need for a winner has always been part of the human psyche. However, the way our modern winners are judged and chosen has changed as the years roll by. The 1950s beauty pageant winner was judged on looks, the 2013 Miss World winner is judged on looks, is expected to raise money for charity, reduce third world debt and who knows what else before she even gets a look in.

Ten’s The Bachelor is a recent example of a program that should be judged on its overall performance - not just of the ratings it delivered, but also by what it delivered beneath the surface. The Bachelor may not seem as popular a show as something like CSI based on its numbers alone, but as with all modern day popularity contests, is there more to this type of program than meets the eye?

The Bachelor initially didn’t go great guns, delivering 669,000 viewers and dropping to 576,000 by mid-September (according to OzTam). However, long gone are the days of regular one million plus audiences, and the show’s performance in catch-up TV went ballistic, reaching 780,000 views in mid-September, whilst the TV audience was dropping off. Alongside this The Bachelor has been one of the most talked about shows in social media this year.

The quality of our TV audience measurement in Australia being topic for debate is nothing new. OzTam may cover 4,913 Aussie homes, which per capita may well be one of the best in the world. But when you consider there are 7.8 million homes in Australia, and that over $4 billon are traded in Television every year based on these numbers, we need to move with the times and start looking past OzTam as the sole source of audience measurement.

MCN is leading the way with MultiView and the data they hold on their audience via the Foxtel box is going to add an extra layer of insight and targeting to the STV buy. But surely in this day and age where engagement and interaction are just as, if not more, important than purely the audience numbers, how else we judge the overall worth and quality of a show like The Bachelor remains to be seen.

This begs a number of questions in terms of engagement of a specific audience in a program that they love, an audience that consumes their media differently and is so engaged that they choose to Tweet and Facebook all about their beloved show on their own personal social media pages. Zeebox is surely helping to fuel this behaviour and, it remains to be seen, could potentially help it grow even more in the future. The increase in catch-up views is testament to that.

The fact that this sentiment for a program has spread via social media surely puts the value proposition of a property such as The Bachelor that much higher than just a vehicle to deliver audience numbers. We are moving from a simple ‘opportunity to see’ with the classic media buy, to an ‘opportunity to engage’. As a result, the way we judge a property like this needs to move with the times – we’re no longer judging that old school beauty pageant – engagement runs much deeper than that.

It will be interesting to see how we can capitalise on similar TV properties that perform so well in the social space. Twitter’s recent partnership with Comcast and NBC Universal will be interesting to watch, and then there’s talk of Facebook launching video advertising in Australia anytime soon, which will provide more opportunities to engage with these audiences whilst they are in the social space tweeting, chatting and posting about the shows that they love.

As we move into 2014 and beyond, it is obvious that the days of programs delivering audiences of two million plus on a weekly basis are long gone, particularly non-event programs. That said, all of us as media planners and buyers need look at the bigger picture – what can a property and all of it’s touchpoints deliver for a brand in terms of engagement and interactivity, and ultimately deliver an emotional response and a subsequent an action for a brand? And how do we truly judge a property based on its overall performance? Even better, how do we plan upfront for it?

We don’t have the answers just yet, but the sooner the media owners and their partner agencies can get a handle on how their audiences are behaving and consuming various pieces of their content, the more we can continue to innovate and drive results for our clients and their brands, and the better we can all become at judging the next beauty to hit our (multi) screens.

Tony Woodward
Business Director

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