I was invited by Clare O’Neil of the Broadcast Research Council (BRC) to attend the presentation of the results of the latest Television Audience Measurement (TAM) audit. Britta Reid finds herself impressed by the professionalism of the new process.
This audit was carried out by an international media research consultant, who focuses on quantitative analysis and currencies for media buying and selling. Robert Ruud has extensive international experience in countries as diverse as Switzerland, Croatia, Czech Republic and Pakistan. Together with Toby Syfret and Dick Dodson from Telmar Europe, he worked on sampling and weighting during the expansion of the Saarf TAMS panel in 2013. He was also involved in developing the KPAs that now govern the running of the panel. I was certainly looking forward to hearing a first hand report, on the state of the TAM panel, from this Norwegian pundit.
I did not expect to be intrigued by the attendees. It was an eclectic collection of people who assembled at the colourful and bright BRC offices. Naturally, the usual suspects were there – the television broadcast researchers, Telmar, supplier of media analysis software to the media agencies and Nielsen, the research company responsible for the TAM data. A more unlikely guest was Jennie Beck, representing, TNS Global and Kantar Media, the company that has just been named the preferred supplier in the Establishment Survey tender.
That both Nielsen and Kantar were in the room is testimony to the grace and professionalism of their representatives. It also clearly showed that these research suppliers understand the level of co-operation that is needed as we move from a simple single source scenario. While such co-operation is customary internationally, where there are individual currency surveys are run, it is a new requirement in South Africa. The open discussion between these two suppliers was a distinctly encouraging sign.
Also represented were an interesting mix of media agency representatives. There were both those who had fiercely opposed the broadcasters departure from Saarf and those who had supported the television broadcasters in their endeavours to rectify their currency from the outset. Once again, this felt like a significant stride forward.
The softly spoken Ruud gave a thoroughly reassuring report of the state of the research. An impressive level of panel efficiency has been maintained and expansion of the panel to 2 900 is continuing in a phased manner. By February 2016, all homes with eight or more years tenure will have been removed.
Nothing in this annual audit would have been surprising to the BRC, as it runs regular five weekly mini health checks, ensuring on-going and regular close scrutiny of the data. The broadcast researchers are able to closely interrogate the data with the research company. Obviously because their sales depend on the data, the broadcasters are eagle eyed in their scrutiny. This close oversight by the commissioners of the research was not possible under the previous research contract between Saarf and Nielsen.
Nothing is ever completely failsafe, but such regular health checks are a significant improvement. An issue with reporting on M-Net Edge was identified and rapidly rectified.
Ruud also drew attention to the issues that needed addressing. The use of household LSM measures as a weighting factor has presented significant challenges. South African society is highly mobile. For example, should an aunt move in with a family for a short time and bring some of her appliances with her, then the household would change LSM grouping. Ruud proposed an elegant immediate solution to the problem – do not use household LSMs as a weighting factor.
LSMs are frequently criticised in a fairly half-hearted way but the media and marketing industries have become inured to them over two decades. We should recall that they were devised as a tool to release the industry from the stigma of racial segmentation descriptors in the early 1990s. It is certainly time for the media and marketing industries to reassess our approach to segmentation. This is not, of course, a matter for the BRC and broadcasters only.
Ruud also discussed the challenges of load shedding, and the fact that households that had been load-shed for two hours during primetime were flagged and could be identified by planners if necessary. It seems most sensible, however, to simply run post campaigns against the lower universe of shed households.
The audit also highlighted challenges such as non-linear viewing and the need to prepare for the future. The BRC is clearly committed to keeping abreast of the changing media landscape and are setting their priorities against available budgets.
The presentation was a clear indication of the BRC’s commitment to transparency. This was further underscored by the stated intention to establish a TAM User Forum, which will enable all interested parties to interrogate the data and understand it better.
By delivering well-managed data, ensuring the oversight of an independent reputable auditor, and showing its commitment to transparency, the BRC proved that the media and marketing industries should welcome the benefits specialised Joint Industry Councils (JICS).
Britta Reid is an independent media consultant.
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