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How are TV and radio viewing figures measured ? back


Reading an interesting article in the Guardian today about the disclosure of salary figures for certain TV and Radio personalities at the BBC, I was intrigued about how they managed to figure out there were 8 million of us who listened to Terry Wogan's morning broadcast on Radio 2. I remember vaguely reading somewhere that they install these electronic devices in some sample households to measure their viewing habits, then extrpolate this to the whole population using statistical means. A bit of research shows that in the UK, TV viewing figures are collected by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board, or BARB. Radio listening figures are collected by the Radio Joint Audience Research Limited, or RAJAR.

It occurs to me this is an extraordinary way of obtaining viewing figures upon which important commercial decisions are based. In fact, the radio figures are only collected monthly, and rely on indexing information from Radio stations themselves. I am sure the bodies responsible make every effort to ensure the measurements and subsequent statistical process reflect as accurately as possible our viewing and listening habits, but this method seems to miss out on lots of marketing opportunities for today's competitive environment.

I remember when we had our first baby, Tesco's used to send us these vouchers for baby milk and other baby products. How do they know we have a baby ? Well, our shopping bill tells them exactly this fact. This same analogy can be taken to the TV viewing figures. Broadcasters can tell their shares of the audience, but can not tell that I am specifically watching x percent of channel 1 and y percent of channel 2, as this information is lost as part of the aggregation process.

Satellite and cable companies are in a unique position among broadcasters to be able to do this accurately, as they have a direct link to each of our set top boxes, and we appear to them with unique identities. This means they are capable of doing the same kind of targeted marketing as Teso does. However, their figures might still be skewed by public venues which show this Summer's World Cup, for example.

Another good reason for not using the statistical aggregation process is it does not always truly reflect the actual outcome, as we have seen from general and local election results and their deviations from pre-election opinion polls. This problem arises when the underlying samples do not reflect the full cross section of the population.


 by by David at 18 Apr 2006 15:06:01
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