Media Matrix by Paritosh Joshi: Valuing audiences

10 May,2012

By Paritosh Joshi


Media advertising has been priced based upon audiences that it reaches for a very long time. Audit Bureaux of Circulation were set up in Western Europe and North America by the early years of the 20th Century and even India’s own ABC has a hoary past, dating back to the 1930s.


However, circulation audits only revealed the number of ‘revenue’ copies i.e. sold copies of a particular publication. This was not a particularly good guide to how many actually read it. Specialist publications may have sizable circulation but very few readers. Conversely, a general interest publication may appeal to many people and be shared around extensively.


This was a serious deficiency. Market Research was a rapidly evolving discipline that offered a solution: readership surveys. Initially starting out as proprietary studies of individual publications, it soon became clear that for widespread use, they would need to be conducted at the industry level. Such studies, run by a ‘syndicate’ of clients have since been referred to as Syndicated Research.


It was evident, even at the dawn of the age of measurement, that it was not enough to have a single number that represented the sum total of all readers. At the crudest, you would have to segregate males from females, children and teenagers from youth and adults. You would also want to discriminate on income-high, middle and low and by geography: rural or urban, state, district and town. These ‘demographic’ variables used to identify ‘segments’ have since become a staple of audience targeting.


Brands and products would make specific media choices based upon the volume of a particular audience segment they delivered. Typically, the price of reaching a thousand individuals with a specific sized insertion became the basis of comparing a medium’s ‘efficiency’. This measure, variously called CPT (Cost per Thousand), CPM (Cost per Mille- mille being Latin for thousand) or simply the Mille Rate became the universal yardstick for evaluating the print media.


Television began to grow in significance, first in theUnited Statesthen inEurope, after the end of World War II. Broadcast over the airwaves, television offered no ‘paid sale’ opportunity. Funding television could only be done two ways. Public broadcasting systems would be funded by the government exchequer and private broadcasters would have to earn revenue from advertising insertions. The pre-existing analogy of the Print media made it clear that television needed an audience measurement system. It was also recognized that viewers showed greater volatility than readers appeared to do, thus necessitating a much higher frequency of measuring the habit.


A solution was found in asking randomly chosen viewers in a ‘panel’ to maintain a viewing diary. Diaries were collected weekly and collated to determine the ebbs and flows of viewership. Since the panel was relatively stable in composition and size, viewership was reported as a relative measure – the rating point. A rating point equals 1 per cent of the total audience. A show watched by every person on the panel would have 100 rating points. Since panels were constructed to mirror the overall population- being a representative random sample – the relative measure could be used to estimate the broader behaviour of the population. Inevitably extending the cost efficiency analogy from Print, it was only a matter of time before the cost of reaching 1 rating point began to be compared across shows. CPRP – cost per rating point – was born.


And that is pretty much where the art and science of valuing audiences has rested, for over half a century.


Now think for a moment about how you consume different media. There’s that television show well past your normal bedtime that compels you to stay awake until midnight – on a Tuesday. That automobile magazine with a big feature by a maverick British journalist that you spend a small fortune on every fortnight. And those news shows run by the world’s most intrusive interviewer that irritate the hell out of you but you watch with an almost masochistic regularity every night at 9. On the other hand, there are those 5 newspapers that are barely glanced at on your office desk, the daily weepies that you are forced to deal with as your spouse devours them every weekday or the fashion magazines that somehow land up in the bathroom stack. Surely there must be a difference in how they are evaluated by a media planner who somehow knows of your media habits? There should be. There aren’t.


In the relentless focus on audience volume as the prime metric, we have lost sight of audience quality. Is it possible to objectively evaluate quality? Do current audience measurement systems pay adequate attention to measuring it? We will deal with these issues in Part II, next week.


Paritosh Joshi was until recently CEO, Star CJ. He has been a marketer, a mediaperson and been a key officebearer on industry bodies. He can reached via his Twitter handle @paritoshZero


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3 responses to “Media Matrix by Paritosh Joshi: Valuing audiences”

  1. Abhay Sharma says:

    What a rational well-meant attack on the deficiency of media rating! Kudos Paritosh…Its so thought provoking…

  2. Rakesh Endlaw says:

    As always, Paritosh, remarkably well written in simple words sans jargons.

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