Zap go our measurement efforts

A while back, I put forth the notion that with the advent of the 200-channel universe, television is going to look less like television and more like an electronic magazine rack, stocked with a vast array of specialized titles for every...

A while back, I put forth the notion that with the advent of the 200-channel universe, television is going to look less like television and more like an electronic magazine rack, stocked with a vast array of specialized titles for every viewing taste.

This is a good analogy, but it has one flaw.

We make the assumption the magazine reader is going to, at least, glance at every page. He or she may not stop and read every word, but we can be relatively confident that if the advertisement is relevant and compelling, we stand a good chance of connecting with the prospect.

Not so with our electronic magazine rack. There is no guarantee of page exposure. The accursed converter allows the viewer to skip from one electronic magazine to another in the blink of an eye.

This difference has enormous ramifications on the measurement of television viewership.

The magazine industry can count the number of people who read a magazine and be reasonably sure that this number represents opportunity to see an ad.

Television audience measurement must be much more precise, measuring viewership to every single program on every single broadcast outlet – a complex task, becoming more complex as the television universe expands.

Television audience measurement in Canada is experiencing its own version of Senate reform.

Everyone knows the system is inadequate. There are good solutions as to how to fix it on the table, but because of firmly entrenched attitudes, the industry has been unable to reach a consensus on a course of action.

I am likely to be accused of understating the complexity of the issues, but consider this.

Less than 1% of all television revenue is reinvested into audience measurement, not an exorbitant amount. There are at least two suppliers which have the technology and the desire to implement a vastly improved system.

Finally, the cost estimates to install an improved system appear to be in the same range as the cost of the existing system. One has to ask oneself, ‘Why can’t we move forward?’

There is a small group of industry leaders representing broadcasters, advertisers and media buyers which have come together to break the impasse. They are determined to succeed.

The odds are that they will. The current audience measurement system is a disservice to the advertisers. And as the number of viewing choices continues to increase, its effectiveness decreases proportionately.

We need a better mousetrap and we need it now. I urge every advertiser, when talking to your favorite broadcaster, to push for this badly needed improvement to our tv audience measurement system.

Jeff Osborne is group vice-president with Media Buying Services in Toronto.