Rewriting the ratings rules

2014-01-14_2058_001From today there will be subtle changes to Australian television ratings from ratings provider OzTAM, so this seems like a good opportunity to address some creative use of the data that has emerged in recent weeks.

If you are a network publicist or a media journalist who reports TV ratings, then there are some things you should know.

From today OzTAM will issue Overnight ratings at 9am (instead of 8:30am) along with Consolidated, or Timeshifted, data for the same shows a week earlier. This had previously been issued each afternoon.

However of late there has been ‘split-coding’ of shows (ie. dividing one hour shows into two separate figures at 30 minutes each) and publicists have been issuing press releases to journos trumpeting ‘national peaks.’

TV Tonight asked OzTAM CEO Doug Peiffer to set the record straight on where creative use of statistics is fair and reasonable, in the hope that the audience can continue to understand an industry yardstick.

In the Australian landscape, the key “industry standard” in reporting a show’s performance is the Average for a 5 City Metro (Syd / Mel / Bris / Ade / Per).

Peaks are acceptable in reporting as secondary information, but the practice of leading with these as a measure of performance is a worrying trend, whether in press releases or in media articles. Figures over one million should also be rounded up / down.

Adding Regional figures to create a “National” figure has also become misused. Even the ABC has indicated a desire to focus on ‘national’ figures, given it is a national broadcaster.

OzTAM Guidelines indicate Regional numbers, should only be added to create a Combined (not “National”) figure.

As Doug Peiffer explained, there are still some areas of the country that are without both OzTAM People Meters and RegionalTAM People Meters.

“We don’t have meters in Darwin and in a lot of the remote areas,” he said.

“It’s a ‘national’ number as far as what we have for People Meters. But we don’t cover the entire country.

“We ask (networks) to use ‘Combined’. But then a journalist writes it and says ‘The national figure is….’

“It’s not a true national figure because more households need to be measured in those areas.”

One journalist also told TV Tonight how difficult it was to report one show as having a ‘national’ result, but not the others listed in the same article because a Press Release had only highlighted one title.

‘Split-coding’ has recently been applied by Nine News for its new one-hour service with one number for 6pm and another for 6:30pm. In 2012 Nine split numbers for Celebrity Apprentice / Celebrity Apprentice Boardroom and TEN split The Project into two half hour numbers but has since desisted with the practice.

Industry observers suggest Nine is coding its News separately to avoid a lower average across one hour landing lower than the half hour average of Seven News, especially when it has been winning.

OzTAM, which is jointly owned by Nine, TEN and Seven takes a less political view.

“The reason they do it that way is because the buying systems that go into the media agencies run on ¼ hour data,” says Peiffer.

“I don’t get into the pricing, but they might have a different rate for the first half-hour to the second half-hour.

“But then it can affect the top ranking reports.”

OzTAM Overnight ratings are based on ‘pre-logs’ as supplied by networks. These are also supplied to EPGs and Guides.

“We take the logs as they are and we process them and clean them, and modify them and inform the stations if there have been mistakes in terms of programme names or spelling mistakes or whatever. But the duration is something we don’t modify,” Peiffer explains.

“So we will continue down that path. So if Nine continues to split (the News) that’s the way it’s going to stay.

“There’s not much I can do under the way the system operates.”

Unless advertisers or rival networks protest about split-coding, it seems likely to remain.

Seven has also been extending its News to around 40 minutes since last week, with around 20 minutes of Today Tonight stories -with no apparent change to ratings data.

“Our recommendation to the networks is that they code it to the content that is there and if it’s 2 different programmes then it should be coded to what those programmes are. That’s what we’ve requested them to do. To the exact times.”

This year however, there has at least been some network consensus on “The Winner Announced” and similar break-out sessions being a minimum of 15 minutes duration. Previously some had been just 5 minutes, in order to net a higher figure and a better press headline. One Programmer once called the practice “a complete scam.”

“Hopefully we have agreement this year that they will continue to hold to fifteen minute averages across those programmes,” says Peiffer.

“In principle everyone said they would adhere to it, but as you know at OzTAM we take the logs from the networks and that’s what we run the service off. So hopefully everyone will follow suit.

“We’ll see when we get to the first Reality programme.”

Meanwhile OzTAM is continuing to look at data for online and catch-up viewing, but the technicalities are enormous with various devices and playouts with no date on when this may be reached.

“It’s trickier than measuring the TV that hangs on your wall. It’s taking a bit more effort to find a technical solution to get there. We’re still working towards it, but at this point I can’t comment on when,” he says.

“We will continue to trial different metering solutions and we’re working with the networks to get their data and see if we can come up with answers on that.”

But Peiffer is more optimistic on resourcing data from OzTAM and RegionalTAM, a separately owned company, into one national panel. With a country of just 23 million it seems logical to have one figure.

“There has been more of an industry push to want to have a true national figure. We’ve had discussions but we’re still two separate businesses at this point,” he says.

“I would say at some point it would make sense for Australia to have a true national panel. You could still break out the regional figures and sub-markets.

“The benefits would be great to the industry.

“The nice thing that we do have is it’s the same meters and (data) supplier, so it could be done.  There are a few technical issues we’d have to unravel.

“But it’s something I would like to see happen.”


  1. I didn’t really understand that article. I help run a couple of television show fan-sites and I need the weekly ratings. I get consolidated ratings from Think TV which have them done much the same way that above is suggested for – ‘along with Consolidated, or Timeshifted, data for the same shows a week earlier’ …i think……am allowed to say that?

  2. It would be better if the ratings, were ranked by time slot……………Oh wait we can’t do that we don’t actually have time slots, we have up next or around about 8.30 but closer to 9.00!

  3. cynical old codger

    ” Rules”???
    The basic rule of Rules, has been in existence for time in-memorial, beginning after the actions of those who created the need for Rules that must be fair honest and consistent and flexible enough to move with changing times/technology/attitudes, whilst enabling compliance but also achieve the desired intention. Unfortunately also since then, unless the rule creators, overseers/regulators, enforcers and penaliser’s have the need for rules themselves, such as the “will and motive required” , and if so, have the resources and power to ensure compliance.
    But again unfortunately we must not forget that these rating rules are rules that apply directly to the same industries that have literally thumbed their noses at many preceding rules with similar intent

  4. There are plenty of us out there in viewer-land who don’t give a stuff about the minutiae of TV ratings – except when a favourite program is dumped because of poor ratings.

    And as the ratings apparatus seem to be at the same addresses for years, you’d have to wonder how representative such ratings are. In Victoria, for instance, you’d think the entire population spends its waking hours glued to AFL in its various forms, but that obviously isn’t so. And if footy drives you mad, you’ve nowhere much else to go during the playing season.

    So if the box is with a footy mad family, what hope do programs like Homeland and The Good Wife stand in such a family. None.

  5. Since 1/4 ratings matter to advertisers can we get a breakdown of all shows in 15 minute increments? That way we can see which quarter was more popular and a show could nab the top 4 spots for meaningful data!?!

  6. @Sairy.James: Tasmania does get measured by Regional TAM, just their numbers don’t get the media coverage that the OzTAM numbers do. But they are still collated and obviously used to sell advertising by the networks there.

  7. So from the article it seems like the split coding is for advertising purposes. Is not not possible for OzTAM to provide this information in its current form?

  8. It would make more sense to compare apples with apples not pineapples.

    Comparing the overnight share with the previous weeks consolidated share is even dumber. One change in a lineup of a popular show between weeks renders the data completely meaningless.

  9. Ehhhh.

    I hate it how the guy says, ” It’s not a true national figure because more households need to be measured in those areas”
    when the simple answer is, Put more boxes out there?

    Coming from a city that doesn’t get monitered (Hobart) the figures always make me mad. Because it feels like we dont count. May as well just turn off the the Tele.

  10. The solution to the problems with the top 20 lists is to abolish it. It is designed to manipulate media coverage of the industry by the networks restricting the information that can be published.

    What is the point of ranking the Overnight ratings of a 6pm news against a drama at 9:30pm, (which half the audience timeshifts), or a movie at midnight watched only by insomniacs.

    We get a top 20 for secondary channels but there are many main channel shows that beat them that don’t appear on either list.

    We also get a consolidated top 20 where the dramas with large consolidated changes don’t appear because they are pushed off the list my news and contest shows with insignificant consolidated changes.

    There is also a public interest in publishing what ABC and SBS shows are rating, even if they aren’t in the top 20 with the commercial hits.

    It would make much more sense…

  11. This ‘split-coding’ reporting is shonky. No other country in the world reports their ratings in this way. If the networks want to report these timeslot differences and peaks, then they should be done in a separate report.

  12. Thank you for the article.
    It again boils down to self management/self regulation. If 7,9 and 10 are happy with their silly games, then the status quo will continue

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