TV planners navigating choppy waters

Life for television planners has not been easy of late. Britta Reid says there is a light at the end of the tunnel… but that the tunnel is a fairly long one.

In a recent Advertising Media Forum(AMF) column, Howard West called for the National Association of Broadcasters(NAB) and the South African Audience Research Foundation(Saarf) to continue working together, after the NAB announced its resignation from the foundation.While there is still no resolution on how the industry will move forward from 2016 onwards, television planners are having to navigate some very choppy water in terms of current TV planning.

Last year, following pressure from several TV broadcasters, notably and the SABC, an audit was conducted on the Television Audience Measurement Survey (Tams) panel.

The audit, done by the French media support association, the Centre d’étude des Supports de Publicité (CESP), highlighted various shortcomings of the Tams data, including that the Tams panel was unbalanced, with an under-representation of homes from mid- to low-LSMs. NAB, Saarf and Nielsen, which operates the Tams panel, addressed concerns highlighted in the audit. Upgrades were carried out ‘live and on the fly’, while the panel continued to operate. TV planners were faced with ongoing data fluctuations over this period.

The upgrades are now complete. The number of reporting households has been significantly increased from 1 700 to 2 500 (equating to 3 300 new respondents and a total reporting sample of 9 300 individuals). The universe composition has been adjusted on the basis of the latest South African Census data from 2011, which reflects significant population shifts, such as the growth of metropolitan areas in Gauteng and the Western Cape due to urban migration.

A RIM (random iterative method) weighting coding error relating to the work status of children aged four-to-six years, has been corrected. The panelists who had participated for an inordinately long period (around 10 years) have been replaced. Outdated Unitam meters have been replaced by the more sophisticated Eurometers. The oversampling of DStv and PVR viewers has been removed.

The good news is that the expanded panel is more truly representative of the South African population and will provide for robust and stable ratings data. But it does provide TV planners with different data. While the overall universe size is up by 5.7% for households and 7% for individuals, overall prime time ratings are down by 2.1%. There is variation by target market, with LSM 8-10 adult prime time ratings down by as much as 5.5% and English/other speakers down by 6%.

Because spot rates are set months in advance, the reduced ratings will result in increased cost per point (CPPs), raising the spectre of media inflation and necessitating careful explanation of the cause to clients and international media auditors.

Reduced ratings also mean net reach will be reduced and in many cases, significantly. An initial exercise on buying 500 TV audience ratings (ARs) against LSM 7- 10, the 25+ market showed the net reach was down from 78.9% to 71.3%. Clearly, TV planners need to negotiate amended objectives with their clients based on these new ratings.

However, an immediate problem in doing this is that TV planners need a solid base of some six weeks of data on which to base their projections. This data will be available by mid-May in order for people to be able to make sensible forecasts.

Almost immediately, disruption will strike in the form of the Fifa World Cup in Brazil that started on 11 June. Station scheduling will change radically to accommodate the screening of the event and the accompanying spectacles, interviews and game dissections. It takes months after major sustained sporting events for viewership patterns to re-settle. This means that only in late August or September will TV planners again be able to work with reasonably stable data. At this point, they will be planning year-end schedules.

For the rest of this year, therefore, forecasting will have to be made with the utmost caution and adequate buffering for fluctuation. Allocating a proportion of budget to guaranteed performance will be particularly attractive. A great deal of time will have to be dedicated to the ongoing monitoring of TV campaign performances. Weekly, if not daily, in-campaign tracking and adjustment will be necessary, as will regular reviews of objectives.

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