In 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.”
Victor 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.