Media Matrix: Valuing Audience – Part II

17 May,2012

By Paritosh Joshi

 

Remember the 5 weepies that you were forced to watch because of your spouse? The maverick British automobile journalist? The irritatingly intrusive news editor? If you do, we met last week. And even if you don’t, I’m going to try and make this week’s 870 words stand on their own feet.

 

We signed off last week wondering about whether audience quality, and not just quantity, could be measured objectively. And whether current systems of audience measurement pay enough attention to measuring audience quality. The questions were tainted by an assertion that “In the relentless focus on audience volume as the prime metric, we have lost sight of audience quality”.

 

Why does audience quantity take precedence over any other measure, particularly in a market such asIndia?

  • Almost every product category has low penetration, or in more technical terms, low Category Development Index
  • Marketers’ primary priority is to reach the widest audience to build awareness about their product/category to stimulate demand
  • When width becomes paramount it is easy to see why quantity always wins over quality

 

The arrival of satellite television inIndiain the early 1990s was the first intimation of accelerating media proliferation. An unregulated regulatory environment in its early years and limitless viewer demand for exciting, entertaining content fuelled a torrent of channels, and indeed genre innovation which continues unabated over two decades on. Coupled with rising incomes in a domestic consumption fuelled economy and steadily growing literacy, India also saw simultaneous growth in the print media and, with the advent of better telecommunications in the last decade, the ‘new’ or digital media. Making systematic and reasoned choices in this era of abundance was no longer the simple exercise that media planning used to be in the stone age of media scarcity that preceded it.

 

Enter- the media agency of record.

 

The challenge for advertisers was just this: how to reach the largest audience at the least cost. Inevitably, the agency’s singular task was to stitch up defined audiences across multiple vehicles at the lowest CPT (cost per thousand) or CPRP (cost per rating point). Conversely, advertising sales personnel at all media outlets were under pressure to offer packages that were compared relentlessly on cost almost to the exclusion of everything. The age of quantity had arrived.

 

We will leave the hurly-burly of the media market for a moment and look at how audiences are actually measured and how these measurements are consolidated into reports.

 

Television measurement involves peoplemeters; devices connected to domestic TV sets that keep track of who watched what, when. These peoplemeters, once installed in a home, track TV consumption around the clock, through the week, across months and years. These days, most have inbuilt communication apparatus that enables them to transmit their observation record to a central server without human intervention. The central facility now consolidates thousands of individual viewer readings into audience ratings, again with little human intervention. Ratings report second by second ebbs and flows in audience aggregates. Cross sections – by second, minute, hour of any other time interval become more important than how a particular individual, or household, or even demographic, spent a day interacting with TV.

 

Other media, most prominently print, are measured by large scale media surveys like the Indian Readership Survey or IRS. Thousands of households are contacted across the country to map print, TV, radio, digital and other media consumption along with detailed information on usage of a wide range of consumables, durables and assets (such as personal transport). Here too, the system is geared to deliver cross sections of readership, listenership and so on, rather than examining how an individual, household or defined demographic consumes across media and product categories.

 

In days of yore when data tabulation, summarization and analysis was done manually, examining and interpreting research information, whether for  TV or any other media, on a ‘longitudinal’ rather than ‘cross-sectional’ was practically impossible. While individual cases might be studied, purely for anecdotal value, there was no practical way of subjecting, large parts of, or the entire sample itself, to cross-sectional study.

 

WithMoore’s Law having given us exponentially growing computing horsepower and data warehousing, this impediment no longer exists. Imagine an individual’s TV consumption across a week. From spiritual or yoga type programs in the early morning, through news and business during the day to action, drama, music, talk and comedy in the evening night, she has a wide range of content on her plate. And when you start looking at her ‘TV timeline’, and start comparing and contrasting it with the thousands of others, you will find others that are rather similar, somewhat similar or rather dissimilar to hers. Simple, least squares type, approaches can scan across timelines to find patterns of behaviour.

 

In much the same way, the entire mix of product and media consumption of individuals or households, rather than cross sectional tallies, can also be run on respondent level data in studies like the IRS.

 

Shifting attention from cross sections to longitudes or timelines – of moving from a cross-sectional view of audiences to actually understanding how they behave and what they consume across time and place is the difference between understanding audiences as quantitative aggregates or behavioural phenomena.

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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