Network coding tactics under OzTAM scrutiny

Exclusive: "The Winner Announced" was one of 2011's most popular titles, but OzTAM is considering rules to limit networks from coding shows separately.

EXCLUSIVE: Networks coding single shows as multiple-titles for ratings glory are set to come under scrutiny by OzTAM.

This year the top-rating TV show of the year was just 7 minutes long.

The Block: The Winner Announced pulled an audience of 3.37m viewers, rising above the average for The Block Auction of 2.73m viewers. It was followed by Australia’s Got Talent: The Winner Announced at 2.98m viewers for a 10 minute programme.

It’s a practice that’s been going on for some time by all three commercial networks including for MasterChef, Australian Idol, My Kitchen Rules, The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance, AFL Grand Final and more.

The commonly-held view for doing it is that shorter programmes will net a higher figure rather than an average across long finales. The benefit is in nabbing headlines the next day that paint a positive picture.

But 2011 saw the practice being used even more creatively, including when The Celebrity Apprentice applied it to one hour weeknight episodes coded with OzTAM as two titles.

How far can it go before many of our primetime shows have 2 or more ratings figures and should OzTAM, as some TV critics have suggested, rein in the practice sooner rather than later?

Victor Corones, Managing Director of media group MagnaGlobal, says while advertisers look at minute by minute results he isn’t a fan of the practice.

“It does create a little bit of confusion by having multiple variations of programmes,” he told TV Tonight.

“Generally whenever we look at any programme analysis we look at the whole programme and not just those things in isolation. The reason we say that is because we can’t actually buy that particular part of the programme.

“When we buy into The Block you’re buying into the whole show unless you’re a sponsor in which case you get some control over placement.

“There’s usually a flat rate across the entire show but potentially the networks could look at selling The Winner Announced as a separate opportunity. It tends to be the sponsors who get the preferred placement.”

He sees the practice as a marketing ploy rather than being a strategy driven by clients.

“Each of the networks are obviously looking for ways to create headlines that can get their story across in terms of how they are performing,” he says.

OzTAM CEO Doug Peiffer told TV Tonight they currently log programmes as they are submitted by networks, but was aware of industry concerns about coding shows separately.

“Obviously there has been some movement in the amount of this occurring,” he said.

“From our point of view it’s something we should look at if the industry is having issues with it. The data is still accurate if you do minute-by-minute, and if you do time-based analysis such as 6-7 or 8-9. But it is adding a level of complexity in terms of people using the data.

“It’s causing a little angst with some of our data users.”

Last week TEN began coding its 90 minute News as two titles, one as 5-6pm and another as 6-6:30pm. TEN News at Five averaged 610,000 viewers while TEN News at Six averaged 339,000 viewers. A week earlier at 90 minutes the average was 548,000.

One Programming source told TV Tonight their “hand would be forced” if competitors made a regular habit of coding segments of shows separately.

Peiffer recalls, “I remember somebody once coded the Lottery break which came up as a 5 minute programme. So at that point people started saying ‘Let’s run the top programmes based on anything more than 5 minutes.’

“Now we’re getting to programmes that are 7, 8, 15, 20 minutes and it’s harder to do. People are trying to see how a franchise performed, such as MasterChef, or MasterChef on Friday. I don’t have a problem with having that second layer because that programme is a little but different. But when we start chopping it up into smaller amounts then it gets to be an issue because there’s no consistency.

“I don’t think we want to start chopping the News down into quarter half hours.”

OzTAM is in early discussions with industry over the coding issue, concerned it may be causing confusion.

“We take the logs as given to us and we take all of the responses from our clients and we’ll table them at an industry forum and try to work out a solution. That could be either coming up with some rules on how to code the programmes or do it ourselves –but that adds another layer of cost because we’ve got to employ people to sit down and do it.

“For us it’s really about the industry and how they use that data that will dictate how we fall on this. They will apply pressure to the networks and us as well and we will have a robust discussion on it.

“It’s just about getting all the providers of programme names to be sensible.

“People are raising it, media buyers, people inside Programming, and the ones who are really raising it are the users –the ones who run the software who try to come up with a sensible average for a programme, and they’re the ones who seem to be doing the hard leg-work trying to put it back together.

“So we’ll discuss it and see if we can come with an industry agreement on it.”

Corones says networks need to start being more realistic so that media agencies know exactly what they’re buying into.

“I don’t think it’s ideal. In the long run you want to be looking at how a show is rating overall and networks breaking it into these special windows aren’t really doing themselves any favours,” he says.

“When they look at each other’s ratings they’re all probably rolling their eyes at one another but not prepared to back down.”

19 Responses

  1. Sometimes “a winner announced”, is filmed on the day of the finale, and the finale has been filmed at an earlier stage. MasterChef does so. Thus you can code two blocks, MC finale and MC winner. If however it its pieced or filmed within a pre-taped finale, then coding should be considered banned. If you filmed CAA in the same block, then forget the codes!

    You could also justify a sport that suggests; AFL Grand Final 2011 – pre match. AFL Grand Final 2011 – match. AFL Grand Final 2011 – post match. You’d be better off having AFL Grand Final 2011. AFL Grand Final 2011 – after the game. Most of your pre-game and game is shot at the MCG and the after stuff is mixed. Such as MCG, then Fed Square.

    We also have Logies – Red Carpet. Logies – 51st etc… You may end up with those two and then Logies – “Gold Logie announced”. Ouch! Good on OzTam for finally taking a swipe at networks coding tactics!

  2. I have prev said that the way to keep everyone reasonably happy is to simply publish averages for an entire program with peaks also (for all programs, not just finales). I have no issue with pre- and post-match broadcasts being coded separately, nor with all-day sports and events (cricket, spring racing, etc) being broken down into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. “Sneak-peeks”, which are simply extended promos, should not appear in the tables at all.

    @J Bar – I don’t think we want to be encouraging the unpopular “wedge” tactic. 😉

  3. IMO, Think they should publish 2 main ratings tables: Top 20 Programs (average) – Programs as clearly advertised in guides ; and Top 20 Programs (peaks) – periods of programs 10 minutes or less. That way the everyone gets the real picture of figures and networks can quote the peaks if it suits their agenda… Just a simple idea really…

  4. To me, the solution is simple. Code shows as one entity only – yes – but show also the peak figure – which for reality finals will be the winner announced, for other shows, it will just show how the most number of people that watched.

    The most annoying part of program splits, is the regular ratings reports never show you the time of these segments, so we are all left guessing as to exact time they cover.

    First instance of seeing the length of all these bits and pieces of TV was when OzTAM released the top 20’s for the year.

    Another practice to crack down on – and please do so before Feb 2012 when it will happen nightly – is coding a sneak peek as a show. Some nights in Feb 2011 had a sneak peek as highest ratings show of the night.

  5. When has the AFL grand final ever been split? I think you’ll find that the game itself has never been, it is the prematch entertainment, and extended post game commentary. That is more than reasonable. When each quarter is coded separately, then we have an issue.

  6. I don’t have a problem with “the winner announced” as long as it is not like Australian idol which had its finales split into at least 4.

    But what 9 did with celeb apprentice was definitely wrong. But it did work, everyone is out calling the show a huge success. It did rate well but if you take out the coding tricks the mon-thurs average is only around 1mil. Which would usually be branded ‘decent’. There are other shows that rate much better that few people notice.

  7. This needs to happen now. They can’t let it go on any longer. But Oztam are dodgy as it is, and don’t the networks own Oztam, so i doubt anything will change.

    They also need to decide now whether the season average or the ratings for single episodes is what should count. Personally i think it should be the season average. Downton Abbey was probably the highest rating drama series but Nine went and used single episodes.

  8. and they need to make regioanl ratings better as well…. i know the news i once worked on was the same ratings for two different bulletins in two totally different markets 550kms apart….how can that be right???…..

  9. I think some action would be good! This would make ratings appear more accurate!
    Still think Masterchef M-F and My Kitchen Rules should be ranked as a series in the end of week ratings, just like drama / soapies H&A and Neigbours. They have different content each day but get ranked for the week.
    Consistency is the key!!

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