Since its launch in the UAE in October 2012, Emirates Media Measurement Company (EMMC) has made strong inroads in changing the way the UAE measures the value of TV advertising slots, in line with international standards. But not all parts of the advertising ecosystem have thrown their weight behind the system, and some have been hesitant to start using data from EMMC, which operates under the name ‘tview’.
But with independent audits taking place to ensure EMMC is working to optimal standards, and with new strategies to fine-tune its audience measurement techniques, the system looks set to finally become the accepted currency by which the UAE’s TV advertising community measures the value of advertising slots.
The challenges of deploying the tview people meter in the UAE were many, and differed from almost every other market in the world, according to Chris O’Hearn, general manager of tview. While the data collected from the 850 homes fitted with people meters was undoubtedly far more accurate than data garnered by Ipsos telephone polls, it still trailed international standards, largely because of “non-compliance”. This non-compliance stemmed mainly from members of the tview panel – which consists of some 850 UAE households – failing to press a button on their audience measurement box. By neglecting to do this, a proportion of the panelists were denying the system the very information it required to monitor what different members of a household are watching.
These issues were revealed by an independent audit that tview commissioned at the end of last year, a move that was agreed by the shareholders of EMMC and other stakeholders, including free-to-air network MBC, advertising buyer Sharie and Dubai Media Incorporated. “The audit came back with several recommendations about areas that needed to improve,” O’Hearn says. “We accept all that. Some of it we knew or suspected anyway. There are a lot of unique things about this region that made it quite difficult. Basically our main task this year has been to implement the findings of the audit and its recommendations.”
The audit was carried out by a French company called CESP which specialises in audience measurement audits and consultancy. Experts from CESP have been visiting the UAE every month to hold technical meetings with the whole industry to implement the main recommendations of the audit.
“That has been going quite well. There will be another audit that will start in September to be delivered in October. It won’t say that everything is perfect but it will, I hope, say that things have improved a lot and that we are on the right track. That is the important part and the auditors themselves have said we are not going to fix all this in six months but that we will get to a point where we can see demonstrable progress and tangible results. Then the auditor will endorse us for the industry to use, and that’s why we agreed to an independent auditor.
“The whole point of the audit is to apply international standards so that if you are an advertiser you can say: ‘I know that the system here in the UAE follows the same approach and standards as the place where I spend my money in Britain or Sweden for example’,” O’Hearn says.
There were three main issues highlighted by the audit, the most significant one being a lack of compliance from members of the tview panel. O’Hearn explains that the strength of an electronic audience measurement system is that it provides individual demographic information about what each member of a household is watching. “If you have a household of five people you want to know what all five of them were watching, but you also want to know their ages, nationalities, all those demographics,” he says.
However, this also requires all of the individual panelists in a home press a button on a special ‘people meter’ device similar to a remote control, which logs them in, allowing the system to see what they are watching at a demographic level. “This [non-compliance] seems to be a unique problem in this part of the world,” O’Hearn says. “Kantar runs these systems in about 25 countries around the world, and CSP does audits around the world, but neither have seen the levels of non-compliance we seem to have in the UAE.”
In short, a high number of panelists have been failing to press a button on the people meter each time they start watching TV. O’Hearn and his team had to find ways to increase compliance – a tough task in a country with so many diverse cultures.
“The trouble with compliance is there is no silver bullet,” O’Hearn says. “It is about motivation, and individuals respond to different things. Some people respond because this is a Federal Cabinet initiative and it’s for the good of the country and they are very motivated to do things that will help the country. Others might perceive a privacy issue and be turned off my government involvement, so you may have to give different messages.”
But while complex cultural differences may have been behind some of the problems, one major cause was simple: in many cases people were simply forgetting to press the button on the people meter when they started to watch TV. To address this issue, Kantar, the company which runs the people meter system for tview, modified some of the meters to give the panelists a subtle audible reminder.
“One of the things that had a big effect on compliance has been a simple act of establishing a slight modification to the people meter where after a few minutes if the set is on and nobody has logged in, it gives a beep – that has had a huge effect,” O’Hearn says. “It is not that people are unwilling it is just not in their minds. Giving this audible prompt has had a dramatic effect on level of compliance.”
So far, tview has focused on modifying the meters for those households that have proven least compliant, and so far about half of all the panel now have modified versions.
Tview has also looked at modifying some of its panel management techniques, such as calling panelists at different times to check for problems or follow up with households that have not logged on for a certain length of time. “If we see people have not been logging on then we follow up more quickly than we did before,” O’Hearn says.
Another issue that was found to have reduced the accuracy of tview’s figures was some incorrect data regarding the number of television sets in people’s homes. This was also discovered by an audit, and O’Hearn is quick to explain the importance of having the correct figure. “Our information might say three TV sets, but the auditor might find four or five – so we might be missing 25% or more of viewing.”
Tview is addressing this issue by being more careful and more specific when it gathers information from panelists.
The auditor, CESP, has set a benchmark of 85% compliance from the panelists and O’Hearn is optimistic that tview will move towards this goal. “In the last audit we were below 56 to 57% on average between the different demographic groups. We have some interim targets for this September, another for the beginning of next year and if we hit those targets then CSP will basically sign off and say that we’re improving and on the right track. That’s the goal we’re aiming for over the next few months,” he says.
To extrapolate the results of panel into data that represents the entire population of the UAE, it is also vital for tview to have reliable data – known as an establishment survey – about the country’s overall population. But gathering this data has also proved difficult. “You have to do an establishment survey which is usually at least 10 times the number you are going to have on your panel,” O’Hearn explains. “This is a very general survey about household size, nationality, number of TV screens, social economics, and things like that.”
In many countries this type of data is collected by a random household survey, starting with the creation of a database of the addresses of all the households in the country. Addresses would then be selected at random for questioning. However, this is not possible in the UAE, and probably other Gulf markets. “We don’t have a database with all the addresses, and you can’t select them at random because you have got tower blocks and closed communities where you can’t get access. The auditors we do random phone dialing, and so we will survey 12,000 people this way,” O’Hearn says.
With the system moving ever closer to full acceptance from the broadcast community, tview is also planning to launch a public awareness campaign. This will consist of a 30-40 second spot which will hopefully be offered by the broadcaster stakeholders. “It’s a very general awareness advert about people meters, how they are here to help you. The message is that ‘this is your way of expressing your opinion’,” O’Hearn says. “We are just in the production phase at the moment. It should hit the screens in September.”
O’Hearn says that he is hopeful that the campaign will also help encourage the panelists to increase their compliance, and be more accurate in providing information such as the number of TV sets in their home.
O’Hearn and his team are excited about tview reaching international standards and its data becoming the currency by which broadcasters and advertisers determine the true value of advertising slots. “Effectively we become like a stock exchange. You measure the value of airtime, measured by both buyer and seller using the index of the ratings data. That’s where we want to get to,” O’Hearn says.
Advertising is the primary revenue stream of regional broadcasters. There may be several other sources of funding that keep them going, but true profitability and growth for the industry depends on advertising revenues.
MENA TV audiences are large, watch TV for long periods and are relatively affluent. That should indicate healthy advertising spot rates, but MENA broadcasters sell their spots very cheaply compared with other markets around the world – and this makes MENA very unprofitable for most FTA broadcasters.
Effective people metering allows advertisers to measure the value of spots more accurately. More confidence in the accuracy of audience data encourages more advertisers to enter the market. More advertisers means more demand, which pushes up the value of advertising inventory.
tview defied the sceptics and launched people metering successfully in the UAE in 2012. The tview project is an essential proof of concept for MENA people metering, but the UAE population is too small to be accepted as a currency by pan-regional advertisers. The industry now awaits Saudi Arabia’s people meters project with bated breath.
Development of tview
The tview project was the result of a Federal Cabinet initiative and has been led by the National Media Council and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.
The development been underway since January 2010 and was endorsed by the Ministerial Council for Services in March 2010. In 2011, the National Media Council entered into a joint venture agreement regarding the development and implementation of tview with leading broadcast entities, Abu Dhabi Media, Sharjah Media Corporation, Rotana Media, Etisalat and du to form EMMC. These companies agreed to collectively fund the project.
Kantar Media/TNS was selected to do the data collection, thus maintaining transparency in tview’s results. The Advertisers Business Group (ABG) was represented on the steering committee that oversaw the setup and formation of EMMC as well.