TV measurement was in a shambles not too long ago. But, after a great deal of hard work and commitment, this has turned around, writes Brenda Wortley.
2013 and prior: The Television
Audience Measurement Survey (Tams) meter panel has been in existence since 1989 and has always been used by the industry as infallible data, always true and always correct. Campaigns and agencies have been labelled successes or failures on the basis of the Tams published results. In 2012, everything came apart for Tams and its dysfunctional state was laid bare for all to see. Three fundamental things contributed to this:
The 2003 contract between the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) and Nielsen was flawed – it did not carry any key performance indicators and provided no mechanisms for the panel to evolve and keep pace with the changing TV viewing market.
A new expanded panel contract with more modern meter technology was awarded to Nielsen in 2010. However, due to a lack of funding for the expansion, the contract and new meters were only taken up in 2013. Another three years passed with ageing meters, ageing panelists and a deeper gap between the profile of the Tams sample and the TV universe it was meant to represent.
As users of the data, we – you and me – questioned the inexplicable results in the data, but naively thought someone else was looking after the quality of the results and that there were quality controls and validation processes in place. Well, we were wrong. For years technical decisions for Tams were made around the Saarf Tams council table – a voluntary group of users of the Tams data (with varying experience), with little to no research and panel management experience, who inconsistently attended meetings where giant decisions were made. I put myself in this camp, believing we were more of an advisory group and that further in the Saarf processes some other guru ensured our user requests didn’t compromise the quality of the panel.
2013 The Audit: It was the best thing to happen to Tams research. It has increased the levels of understanding of panel management, weighting and panel health tenfold among the broadcaster and agency representatives that have walked the path, knowledge that we will take with us into the future and share even more broadly. Yes, many shortcomings were revealed. And change was required. By 2014, the panel had been ’overhauled‘, with the old households and metering technology removed. The panel had a new life and a clean bill of health from Robert Ruud, the international auditor appointed by the broadcasters.
2014 Year One: A new five-year Tams contract was finally signed with Nielsen. Year one (2014) was a tripartite agreement with Saarf and Nielsen that covered the notice period broadcasters had to serve after resigning from Saarf. From 2015, the contract will be a direct agreement between the Broadcaster Research Council (BRC) and Nielsen. The panel is now run with tight controls and extensive reporting. There is a committed technical committee that meets regularly with Nielsen. Transparency is at a level never seen before. Investigations are dealt with openly and any problems encountered are seen as ’shared‘ issues. The panel has, in fact, never been in better shape and the relationship with the supplier has never been stronger. The software houses can certainly bear testament to the fact that there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of user queries concerning the data. The international auditor continues to provide oversight and guidance as we introduce change and improvements to the panel.
So the key questions the industry is asking are, “Can the data be trusted? Is it credible and independent under the ‘control’ of the broadcasters?”
Perhaps the answer lies in the results; every change and improvement that has been introduced into the panel since it has been under the broadcasters’ control over the past two years has resulted in lower ratings for broadcast television.
There are two major factors influencing this. The first is that the new meters that were installed throughout the panel allowed for measurement of all the viewing activity taking place on the TV monitor, reducing linear broadcasted content to about 90% of all the viewing in a household. The linear broadcasted content used to be the total from which ratings share were calculated.
Secondly, the new meters allow households to be polled when there is no electricity to a household. Therefore in years gone by, load shedding and power outages were not obvious in the results as households were excluded if they could not be polled. Therefore, the sample always comprised powered households. The new meters allow these households to be included in the sample – as good, non-viewing households. There are days when households reporting on battery-powered meters can reach 6%.
2015 The Future: The future is positive. There are a number of initiatives being explored by the BRC that will improve the panel efficiency further, as well as the stability of the data. The panel reached international standards in 2014. I believe that in 2015 we will start pioneering panel management refinements that will be cutting edge, surpassing anything being done in other markets. The statistical panel efficiency (a measure of how representative a panel is of the universe it is representing) rose from 48% at the start of 2014 to over 70% by the end of the year. It will exceed the international benchmark in 2015 and I predict it will get to over 75%.
The South African TV market is different to the metered markets elsewhere so requires some unique adaptions. With the oversight and guidance of the international auditor, as well as the extensive testing of every change made, we will move forward with the reassurance that we are providing the industry with a first class TV measurement currency. The Tams technical oversight by a dedicated group of users (agency and broadcasters), using world-class quality control reports and the guidance of the international auditor, will continue into 2015. All refinements will be tested and reviewed before going into the live environment, and they will be well communicated to the industry in advance.
In 2015, the BRC will turn its attention to standardising the reporting and results of Tams data so that the likes of reach and frequency calculations produce the same results across the various software systems available to users.
Finally, it is simply a matter of coming along for the ride to see if this works as it should.
Brenda Wortley is director of strategy and research for DStv Media Sales.
This post was first published in the February 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
NOTE: The Broadcast Research Council is hosting a session on TAMS next week. Invitation here.
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