The announcement late last year that the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) would use DStv’s audited figures for weighting the pay channel’s penetration, PVR penetration and the bouquet percentages within the DStv universe on the Television Audience Measurement Survey’s (TAMS) panel was greeted with some alarm and consternation in the media industry.
Coming as it did straight after Cinemark announced it would stop supplying the sector and its stakeholders with cinema ad spend data, it wasn’t surprising that the move angered some of those stakeholders.
One of them is Gordon Patterson, group managing director of the Starcom MediaVest Group. “The Nielsen service is already weak and the loss of cinema reporting weakens it further. Already the out-of-home and digital data is rubbish, and the radio data is questionable, so really the only data worth paying for is print as we can obtain TV from Telmar,” he says.
Paul Haupt, CEO of Saarf, says every industry stakeholder who sits on the Saarf board and TAMS council is acutely aware of the importance of the currency information provided by Saarf to the industry.
“Decisions like this are thus not lightly taken. Unfortunately we live in a very dynamic time and we cannot afford to allow our research to become divorced from reality,” he says. “There must therefore be a fine balance to reacting to change without overreacting and the necessary changes must be made when and if the circumstances dictate it.”
Haupt admits change causes uncertainty, and, he says, “even more so with the currency surveys as they are such important building blocks in our industry”.
Patterson says: “The bottom line is that Saarf should be the experts, and while there are numerous industry sub-committees involved with Saarf, the sole responsibility of the statistical integrity of the data must be Saarf’s… and not those serving on the committees. These individuals are users not statisticians.”
At the heart of the matter is the fact that when Saarf first started measuring DStv viewership 11 years ago, it was growing “at a rapid rate”. MultiChoice supplied Saarf with audited DStv subscriber numbers to be used in the weighting. Then DStv launched a number of new bouquets, and the growth continued. As part of the TAMS audit task team’s investigations, a decision was reached to use DStv audited figures once again alongside the AMPS data, in order to get the most accurate reflection of the current reality.
Haupt elaborates. “Stakeholder concerns were raised at a meeting of the Saarf board towards the end of September last year. The board decided that the best way to restore certainty to the industry was to have an independent audit done of the TAMS survey to international standards,” he says. In the meantime, the committee overseeing the process has taken the interim step to use the DStv figures in addition to AMPS to “ensure that the best possible estimates for the DStv and free-to-air universes are made in anticipation of the outcome of the audit”.
DStv’s Chris Hitchings told The Media he would prefer not to comment until the Saarf audit team had completed its investigation towards the end of March.
How will these moves impact on the media industry? The MediaShop’s Chris Botha says DStv have been over-represented in the sample in previous readings. “With the adjustment in the sample universe, we should see audiences on DStv decrease slightly, and audience on free-to-air channels increase. When media strategists and planners plan their media, they in essence do a job of finding and following audiences. The new research will show that there are greater audiences on free-to-air TV than was anticipated. This will mean that potentially, more advertising monies will be spent on free-to-air channels and less on pay TV. The free-to-air channels will be able to charge more for the same programme, as they will be delivering greater audiences,” he says.
“From a media planning point of view, it affects our commitments to media owners, as these are always based on the performance of the channels. It will make tracking and trending well nigh impossible, and will cause havoc with any sort of predictive planning.”
GSM Quadrant’s Gordon Muller says the difficulty comes in the planning and buying. “The age old debate: do you want to trend data or do you want the correct data? Trending is super but if you’re trending incorrect data then there’s no value. The problem for media buyers is that they are being measured either on year-on-year cost per point (CPP) projections and/or planned versus delivered CPP.
“For example: In September 2012, you plan 300 gross rating points (GRPs) for December 2012. In order to do this, you need to dip back into the past audience data to project into December 2012. So, you could use December 2011 data or you could use August 2012 data. Either way, if the TAMS universe changed in December 2012 (even if it is for all the right reasons) and shows an audience decline, then the planner is at risk of penalty for under-delivery.”
Muller says if the changing universe continues to produce significant variance in data, “then long term we have a media-buying problem”.
Botha believes the industry can expect the free-to-air channels to “cause a real stir within the whole industry as they have in essence now been jeopardised for previous periods”.
He says movements in media spend will take place, and television schedules will see greater representation of free-to-air channels. “The second implication is of course the chaos it will cause with any sort of trending. It will become incredibly hard to trend data from last year on any channel with data from this year. You are in essence not comparing apples with apples. Predicting for the early months of 2013 will also be hazardous, as there won’t really be a base to predict from,” says Botha.
Muller says if audiences are seen to go down, then it contributes to overall media inflation and adds to the general perception that “paid-for media” is an increasingly expensive option. It also, he says, invalidates the agencies’ audience projections. “Clients need to take this into consideration when assessing agency performance. Planners can’t control this level of audience fluctuation. In reality of course nothing has changed. The same number of people is watching TV. All that’s changed is the measure,” he says.
And the impact on DStv? Muller says it won’t impact on the way DStv does business, but if the audience figures show a consistent drop, then they may have to lower their prices long term.
Haupt says the television arena has changed substantially over the past couple of years, and has happened at great speed. This means numerous changes have been made to keep the research current and relevant. The issues that arise are often complex and need quick reactions and in this process, the TAMS Council has to be prepared to “venture into relatively unknown territories”, he says. “It is to be expected that it will not always be smooth sailing, but this does not mean that a policy of doing nothing is better. Saarf will come out of the audit even stronger and with the support of its stakeholders. It will keep on producing world-class research that will serve and strengthen the media, advertising and marketing industries.” N