Shailesh Kapoor: Four things TV ratings don’t tell us

07 Dec,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor


After a hiatus that was received by the television industry with excitement and skepticism in equal measure, TV ratings are scheduled to make a comeback on December 19. Expect a chaotic fortnight of data crunchers working overtime at broadcasting companies and media agencies. Also expect trade promotions based on claims and counter-claims, including those that proudly declare how some channel is no. 1 in its genre among males in the 25-34 year old age segment in SEC B in the UP-MP market. All par for the course!


TV ratings, in their different avatars, are the media buying currency worldwide. However, smart marketers have figured out over time that ratings tell only one part of the television audience’s story. A very important part all right, but still not the complete story.


Here is my list of four critical things TV ratings don’t tell us:


1. Active v/s Passive Viewing

Most television shows show a gender split between 50:50 and 60:40, in favour of either gender. That would imply, for example, that a primetime daily soap is as much a media vehicle for a bike brand as it is for a detergent brand. Now, common sense would tell us this is not the case. That’s where the biggest limitation in any passive audience measurement system lies. It does not account for the audience’s involvement in the content. If the housewife turns on her favourite programme and the husband and the kids merely watch along, often multi-tasking during that time (for example, reading the newspaper, browsing on their mobiles, etc.), they are all counted at par, as equally valid audiences.


So, a programme like Balika Vadhu may show a fairly balanced gender profile on ratings, but its day-after recall is skewed 75:25 in favour of women. The day-after recall of Hindi movie channels is skewed so sharply towards the 10-34 year male audiences that targeting any other audience type through these channels is worth questioning. ‘Active viewership’, which is what a broadcaster should be basing its marketing plans on and an advertiser paying for, needs a filter beyond the ratings.


2. Satisfaction Levels

Is the consumer satisfied with my content? For any broadcaster, that is a key question, especially given the volatility in content and the ever-decreasing loyalty levels. In our work over the last year, it has been conclusively proven that drop in satisfaction levels of daily programmes (across genres) lead to a drop in ratings, but with a lag of about 3-4 weeks. Hence, measuring satisfaction levels of channel and programme brands can lead to far more purposeful actionables for both the channels and the advertisers backing them.


3. ‘Aural’ Viewing

It’s an oxymoron, but it’s happening. Increasingly, a lot of television is being heard, not watched. Kitchen work, homework, office work, mobile, Internet and many other such activities are being ‘managed’ while watching TV. The proportion of ‘aural’ viewing increases significantly during ad breaks. Ask an advertiser if he wants his ad to be only heard, not watched! Ratings clearly don’t tell this part of the story.


4. The Surround

In a convergence-driven world, looking at television in isolation will be foolhardy. The surround or the ambient noise a TV channel or program manages to create is important to quantify. This may happen through social media and the Internet, or through traditional media like print articles, not to mention the extremely powerful word-of-mouth effect. As BARC gets set to redesign the norms of audience measurement in India, this should be an evident area of focus for them.


TV viewing is a jigsaw, and the ratings certainly don’t complete the puzzle. Full marks to advertisers and broadcasters who have recognized this reality and have built additional metrics to address it. For others, it’s the age-old adage that comes to mind: Better late than never!


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