From 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.”