Shailesh Kapoor: Is Appointment Viewing a myth?

04 Oct,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s a much-used and much-abused term in the television business. Appointment Viewership. Indeed, appointment viewing is the Holy Grail for the television business. It’s the acid test of a good programme or channel – Does it have the ability to get eyeballs by appointment? In simple terms, does it have the ability to make its audiences incorporate the program (or channel) into their daily or weekly schedule, in a way that it becomes a fixture for them?

 

Appointment, as a dictionary word, suggests the same: ‘A meeting set for a particular time and place.’ How complex can it get, after all?

 

Yet, the degree to which the concept of ‘appointment’ viewership is misunderstood in the television industry can be baffling. I discovered it about three years ago when a research revealed that a programme on a niche channel had very high appointment viewership. The client (who happened to be competition to the said programme) argued how that was possible, given the 0.7-rating of the program. I gave them an example of a 2.5-rating programme on a leading GEC that was being watched almost entirely in breaks and without any semblance of appointment viewing. How the debate went thereon is another story altogether.

 

But that’s the lack of understanding I speak of. Appointment viewership is associated with high ratings, while lack of appointment is associated spontaneously with low ratings. Many media experts believe that our myopic view of the ratings system leads our television business into operating in the short-term. And this is yet another symptom of the same.

 

As we have dived deep into the appointment-viewing concept over the last two years, many discoveries have happened over time. Only about a dozen Hindi GEC programme have a significant (20%+) base of appointment viewers. Others are watched for various reasons, none of which have any direct connection to the concept of ‘appointment’. Reasons such as:

 

  • My mother watches it, so I watch it too.
  • It’s the most watchable of all the programs on TV at that time, so I end up watching it.
  • I finish the chores and am free before dinner time, so I watch this program. (The ‘timing suits me’ reason)
  • It’s a good ‘time pass’ programme to watch.

 

The ratings system doesn’t distinguish such types of viewing from appointment viewing. Back in 2010, a top-rated programme on a GEC was in an extremely vulnerable position. Research after research, viewers would trash it, saying that they are hating how the programme has moved from being a classic to a bore. The signals were clear. The viewing behaviour had moved from appointment to casual to cold & passive. But there was no strong competition to take the audience away. And hence, the ratings maintained themselves by and large, helped by sporadic high points in the story.

 

The channel remained in denial on the programme for almost six months, questioning research design instead. And then, a competition channel launched a worthy show, and the much-touted show sank to less than one-third of its rating within three months, only to die an impending death over the next six months.

 

But there are other examples too, where shows or channels run on a small but dedicated viewer base for months, even years. Music channels have certain time bands that manage this, by creating content affinity by showcasing music that a particular segment (e.g. retro music fans) may want to watch. News channels too rely on marquee anchors to create an appointment viewer base. Far and few in between they may be, but such properties serve their channels and advertisers very well over time.

 

The confusing element in appointment viewing comes from lack of clarity in measurement. Appointment viewing should be defined as the percentage of a programme’s viewership that comes from its core, appointment-viewing base. Because this is the viewership that’s safe, secure and future-proof. The rest is all transient, or simply a matter of chance. Instead, it is often argued that a bigger audience size implies more appointment viewership.

 

Only about 20 channels in India have even one programme that has a 20%+ appointment viewing base. Others are all creatures of destiny, at the mercy of the viewer, and at the mercy of events in the viewer’s life that the channel has absolutely no control over.

 

I have maintained for a while that executive producers should be measured on appointment viewing proportions, and not rating points. It will be fairer on them, and on the business. But for that, we need to shed some of our obsession with the weekly ratings.

 

Easier said than done?

 

Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

 

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