TV audience measurement – why big isn’t always beautiful

the voice logoIn this guest post, Chris Walton argues that the media industry needs to take a new approach to TV trading

There has been a significant amount of coverage recently about how successful The Voice has been. Indeed, audience figures of 2.6m+ people are very impressive these days. Based on reports, this is apparently double the size of audience that Nine was hoping for in the lead up to the programme launching.   

There must be some very happy people at Nine. Whilst a successful TV station is not built on a single programme, you could be forgiven for thinking The Voice is almost single-handedly saving the network at a time when it most needs it. This is largely because of the much increased rates the network is now charging (one hears six figure sums bandied about) for spots that air during the programme. And who can blame the sales team for doing this? Make hay whilst the sun shines.

However, the success of The Voice in audience size terms has highlighted how woefully inadequate the entire approach to media trading is. ‘The Voice won in all demographics’. So what?

I do want to make it clear that this isn’t a beat up on Nine at all – all they are doing is capitalising on the opportunity the current way of doing things presents them with. They are now able to proudly boast that more people who are aged between 25 and 54 years of age watch this show and their channel than any other. They can claim it for The Voice with any demographic group they choose.

So, we know the demographic make-up of who is watching the show, and let’s put aside for a minute the debate about the size of the OzTam panel and its ability to accurately tell us even this on anything other than a very broad level. But if this is what we know about them, what do we not know about them? Casting an eye over the main sponsors, as well as those brands that regularly advertise in and around the show, the following questions occur:

  1. What proportion of this audience currently drives a small car? How many of these are actually in the market at the moment for a new small car in the right price range?
  2. Which audience members have demonstrated switching behaviour when it comes to choosing a telco provider? For existing customers to what extent is mass marketing greater at up-selling than direct communication?
  3. What proportion of the audience travel on a regular basis? And when they do travel do they pay premium or budget fares?
  4. How many of those viewing demonstrate loyal supermarket purchasing behaviour?

We don’t know. At least not accurately and in almost real-time.

Huge amounts of money are being spent based on woolly hypotheses that are linked to fluffy data. The amount of wastage this creates is staggering.

The vast majority of marketing dollars are spent trying to get people to buy stuff. What would a small car manufacturer prefer – paying to reach 2.6 million and selling say 30 cars or paying to reach a million people and selling 50 cars? What marketers are looking to buy and what media owners such as Nine are currently selling are two different things. Indeed, whilst we have all heard a thousand times or more that the media landscape has changed and continues to change, the approach to trading has not…its been the same for decades – a very broad shotgun approach that has no link to actual buying behaviour. It is stuck in a time warp that values two pairs of eyeballs more than one pair, regardless of how much more (or less) likely the larger number are to actually buy something the advertiser is selling. In other words, size of audience is secondary to relevance of audience and the resulting likelihood to buy as a result.

The current trading system, in rewarding quantity over quality is doing us all a disservice, including media owners. False peaks are being created due to an over-demand for high rating shows. False troughs are also created by the evaluation and pricing of airtime being based on broad and woolly demographic definitions, rather than the relevance, response and sales effect which different environments provide.

The time is nigh for a new approach to trading that leverages a deeper and more accurate understanding so that advertisers can spend their money and place their brand in places where their paying customers actually are.

Chris Walton

  • Chris Walton is principal of Quantium Media Solutions. He is a former CEO of media agency MindShare


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