Qualitative data is a `smokescreen’

For the television industry to embark upon a program of qualitative audience data would, at this time, be sheer folly.Not only would the money be wasted, but there would be a high risk of further alienating an increasingly disenchanted advertiser.The fact...

For the television industry to embark upon a program of qualitative audience data would, at this time, be sheer folly.

Not only would the money be wasted, but there would be a high risk of further alienating an increasingly disenchanted advertiser.

The fact of the matter is that, in Canada, we do not have a basic audience measurement system in place. We are operating with a woefully inadequate method of measuring tv audiences.

The diary system used to provide market information is yesterday’s technology.

A superior electronic-based methodology is available and is used in virtually every other country in the world where commercial tv is available.

Without basic quantitative audience data, and without the accepted media currency that it should provide, qualitative data means little or nothing for media planners.

To direct sorely needed funds and industry effort to ‘nice-to-have’ information, when the very foundation of the buying/selling process is in jeopardy, could mark a turning point for our tv industry.

Many advertisers would interpret the availability of qualitative information as a smokescreen intended to divert industry attention from the fundamental failing of many broadcasters to face up to what is expected from them by Canadian advertisers.

From a media evaluation perspective, qualitative data probably account for about 15% to 20% of the media equation.

Under normal circumstances, qualitative data would be used in combination with quantitative data in the form of media weights.

For example, an audience for a particular tv program or time period might be weighted to reflect environmental (content appropriateness) considerations or to incorporate such factors as viewer attentiveness.

However, if the base to which these weights are applied is suspect, then the end result becomes questionable.

There is no escaping the fact the quantitative information around which the tv industry revolves must be strong, credible and accepted by the buyer and the seller.

Only when it is, can qualitative data be introduced and applied to the process.

In spite of years of discussion, even confrontation, many major broadcasters continue to resist a move to a contemporary audience measurement system.

Meanwhile, advertisers and agency irritation has now changed to anger.

Many advertisers now openly discuss the diversion of funds to alternative communication vehicles. Many cite the lack of an acceptable tv currency system as the reason.

At this point, industry hopes appear to rest on the deliberation and recommendation of the Association of Canadian Advertisers-initiated Television Measurement Committee.

This tripartite group, representing advertisers, agencies and tv broadcasters, has wrestled with the issues facing the introduction of an electronically-based market measurement system.

We hope that it will provide an industry blueprint for the development of a viable system of market audience measurement.

In the meantime, I would urge that in this current environment, qualitative data be assigned a low research priority.

Every research dollar, every research hour must be spent on the fastest possible introduction of a contemporary market-measurement system.

The stakes are enormous and time is running out.

Hugh Dow is senior vice-president, national media director for Initiative Media in Toronto.