Should ratings rule be national not metro?

aussatiIn the ongoing debate about how TV ratings reflect our viewing there’s one school of thought that questions why in a nation of 23 million people our ratings are only confined to the 5 metropolitan markets of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

If you’ve seen an ad for Under the Dome recently you’d have noticed it claiming 1.7m viewers. But that’s a national figure, combining our 5 metro OzTAM numbers with the regional markets by RegionalTAM. The rule of thumb in the advertising industry has always been the average number in 5 city metro markets.

Yet TEN is not alone in this new practice.

Seven press releases have also trumpeted national figures, alongside 5 city metro numbers. Nine Press Releases even lead with the national peak for some shows, rather than the average.

Strictly speaking, none of them are doing anything wrong as long as the data is clearly labelled. But it’s a creative way to offset the fragmentation of viewing in the current landscape. While total viewing remains high, the way it is communicated via media makes it sound like we’re all switching off. In reality we’re just finding more diverse ways to view content including Timeshifting, Catch-Up, Binge, DVDs, Foxtel, Online and yes, illegally downloading.

So would it not make more sense to switch to a new methodology? A national, rather than 5 city metro, average?

It depends who you ask.

One who is advocating change is Fairfax TV critic Michael Idato.

“The fact that the industry quotes national ratings which are calculated from five major cities and not the broader Australian audience, has long been a source of concern for me,” he told TV Tonight.

“While the statistic logic behind the methodology – that they represent discrete advertising economies – might make sense in the accounts department, it does not make sense when reporting the viewing audience for programs.

“It is not just more sensible to report national audiences using a merger of capital city and regional audiences, it is also mathematically more accurate.”

2013-07-02_2155Victor Corones, Managing Director of media agency MagnaGlobal, said, “Ultimately it’s the PR departments of each network that’s trying to look for the biggest number they can take to market each day in their releases. So yes it’s becoming more frequent to see both metro and regional numbers being combined. Which makes a lot of sense when talking about Australia’s top rating shows. What’s top rating in metro isn’t always top rating in regional. I don’t see any problems having a national number reported provided it’s clearly labelled. I’m not sure if the broader market see it that way but would be surprised if there was opposition from other agencies.”

The current system sees one company OzTAM, which is jointly owned by Seven, Nine and TEN, as being responsible for 5-city metro and national subscription television ratings. A separate company, RegionalTAM, measures Free to Air and STV viewing in 5 Aggregated markets and regional WA. In both cases, the data is collected and marketed by Nielsen.

Neither OzTAM nor RegionalTAM would comment for this article, preferring to let networks talk about the numbers for themselves.

Free TV Australia, which also represents Seven, Nine and TEN also declined to be interviewed.

Despite networks pushing national numbers both on air and to media, none of the commercial networks are advocating change.

Asked if we should move to a national ratings methodology, a Nine spokesperson said, “We’re not moved either way.”

A Seven spokesperson said, “We’ve not really formed a view.”

And a TEN spokesperson said, “Network TEN is always interested in looking at ways to improve the reporting of television audience data, and always encourages debate about how the data is generated and distributed. However, at this stage we do not think combined, national ratings data would serve the needs of advertisers and agencies. They treat the capital cities and regional areas as discrete markets, and the television ratings data needs to reflect that.”

In the immediate outlook in this multi-billion dollar industry, it seems likely that the 5 city metro standard is preserved, under the ratings dome.


  1. @advoc8 – “hardship”??… really?

    I too live in a regional centre and I read with horror someone like you commenting somewhere else on this site that we should keep TV stations regional and they can cherry pick from the various commercial stations. I remember this from the good ol’ days when we used to have a choice of two channels… Aunty (awesome) and, where I lived, CBN (not so much)… even as recently as the late 90s when I resided in Griffith there was still only a choice of 2 stations. I can still remember reading about a good show coming along, but noooooooo my station wouldn’t have it… of course 😐

    Thank goodness that we are lucky enough to now have a choice. Well, most of us. After all, in a country as big as ours, with a population as spread in regional areas as ours, it is simply not viable to supply that same choice to everyone, unfortunately. But as technology continues to improve this will change as well 🙂

  2. @ryan – I suspect we will be after the next election >:)

    @poss – that is how I feel as well. I watch what I like. I do not watch something because everyone else does. Feel sorry for the sheep that are attracted by such advertising in fact. That is why the only “reality” TV I watch is a few seconds as I channel surf… which is all you really need to keep up anyway 😉

  3. Should be national IMO


    The Gold Coast is included in metro as it’s part of the Brisbane catchment. See their coverage map

  4. Frankly, i dont care what the ratings are if its a good programme i will watch it. No amount of number crunching is going to make me watch bad programme.

  5. @ David Knox

    Thank you for this item, as it does touch on the prevalence of Citycentirc versus Regional attitudes that affects so many Regional Lives, and is something that I continually raise in TvTonight, and I have the bruised and battered knuckles to prove it if my comments bang on to much, or I go just that little bit to far and make things awkward for you, and I do as you know always respect your decisions, but as you also know I always keep trying to raise the disadvantages that Regional/Rural/Remote areas receive, and contend with on a daily basis, when we are only looked at through Citycentric Eyes.

    Where once again it seems and virtually proven, when many of those with the influence and “responsibility” simply declined to comment, and to me rams home their attitude of ‘ Picking The Eyes Out Of Data Available” but also turning a blind to “Data and Needs” when it suits.

    Sadly the crux of your item could with a change of ” Title Line” would not only apply to the Television Industry but to so many other unfair Citycentric decisions that detrimentally inflict hardship on so many Regional/Rural/Remote Australians.

  6. Secret Squirrel

    While it is true that the collection of ratings data is to allow the pricing and sale of advertising, the argument from Ten that national figures won’t serve the needs of advertisers is a straw man. The numbers from the 5 separate capitals are already consolidated into a total and no-one appears to be suggesting that this is for the advertisers’ benefit or to their detriment.

    The networks are starting to do it for some of their shows anyway, I see no problem with formalising it. The data that goes to the advertisers, agencies, and other subscribers will still be the same.

  7. Traditionally ads were sold in the local market though that is increasingly being centralised e.g. Nine handled the ads for Perth and Adelaide even before they takeover control of those WIN stations directly.

    With shows like MKR and The Voice national ad campaigns make sense and once the reach rules go the Networks will become more national so national ratings would make more sense.

    At the moment there are only figures made public for Oztam so it has to be 5MC ratings that we talk about.

  8. As someone who lives in a regional town it would be nice to think that I count as a viewer. I always wondered why they only included the 5 capitals. We are real people too, not backward hicks like some people think.

  9. Perhaps if people are worried about raising being purely for advertising maybe the inclusion of all cap cities and major centres (Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Newcastle, Gold Coast, etc.) to offer a more nationalised ratings system and even promote competition within markets outside the metro areas

  10. And finally what the hell makes you think ratings are for the general public anyway. We are not the customers of commercial (or pay) TV, we are the *product*. We are what is being sold to advertisers by the networks (and I include the dismal payTV in this as well, although there you are stupid enough to paying for the “privilege” of being a product). As long as the commercial stations own their own ratings system, then they will manipulate it anyway they care to, including changing the way the sample is collected (this happened in the first few months we began this new system), how it is analysed through to how it is reported. Ratings are a complete joke, and meaningless, at least to you and I, except that we may be able to pat ourselves on the back for watching something that everyone else seems to…

  11. TasTVcameraman

    I think that if the ratings are combined it would give a truer picture and of course if they are not combined.
    Hobart should be included as it is a capital city as part of the national approach.
    I know that we are not very big but we still have radio and TV channels dow here..

  12. The most basic misunderstanding that people have about ratings is that it is how “popular” a show is. This blatantly isn’t the case with all the commercial channels starting shows late (or early) in order to influence the ratings figures for the show following (or previous). Also, they split shows up into sections in order to pick the most “generous” sample from which to penny pick their data. Until the stations are forced to stick to strict schedules, then ratings are, for the general public, meaningless.

  13. @Bazza – while I tend to agree that the sample size is too small (and it is stratified, rather than skewed), many statisticians would disagree, Mind you, you know what they say about lies and there being three types… lies… damn lies….

    and statistics 😉

  14. I agree that the 5-city ratings is merely for advertisers, but it would be nice to have a national figure too. We could still have ratings for the 5 cities, but they could add a column at the end and say ”other” or ”regional” and that would be the ratings for the rest of the country. Just a thought.

  15. Whilst it’s fun to follow the success and failures of programming, these figures are primarily used to allocate advertising. It could be that most advertisers concentrate on the big 5 cities and that’s what matters to them most.

  16. Blimey, I must be thinking about the weekend already, but at first glance I thought David was trying to do some social commentary on tv execs and the images was of a plate of cocaine.

  17. carolemorrissey

    I live on the Gold Coast, and it’s ridiculous it’s not taken into account for the ratings, it’s not a capital city, but it’s a pretty big city. I have no great technical knowledge, but it seems ridiculous to me in this digital age that they can’t find a way for all of us to register what shows we are watching and what we are taping to watch later. Rather than a selected few who have that box thingy which doesn’t account for every person watching TV.

  18. Yes, we certainly should be looking at national ratings figures rather than just the five cities. Also, we should be measuring the ratings for the whole year rather than 40 weeks out of 52.

  19. Does it really matter? They extrapolate results for millions of people from a skewed sample often less than 0.1%. The figures are meaningless no matter which way they go.

  20. In theory no reason regional Australia shouldn’t be included in the ratings, but one thing the metro ratings do is keep the channels focusing on individual cities. A switch to national ratings could lead to less local focus.

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