Toronto prepares for people meters

Some time soon, probably no later than next spring, local Toronto tv measurement will switch to the much more accurate, much more current, electronic measurement of people meters from the paper diaries that have endured for so long.Such a move has...

Some time soon, probably no later than next spring, local Toronto tv measurement will switch to the much more accurate, much more current, electronic measurement of people meters from the paper diaries that have endured for so long.

Such a move has been a long time coming – as it stands, this country’s largest, most lucrative market trails behind Finland, among other places.

Convinced of benefits

Despite the delay, almost everyone associated with the introduction of A. C. Nielsen’s people meters into the local Toronto market is convinced of their benefits, even if in the shorter term there will be some readjustments and dislocation.

People meter measurement at the network level is not an issue; it has been in place for some time and prompted little carping in the tv industry.

To bring people meters to the Toronto market, BBM Bureau of Measurement and A.C. Nielsen Canada signed a four-year deal this September.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nielsen will phase out its diary service in Toronto and replace it with people meters.

Regional networks

Ontario and Quebec regional networks will also be measured by people meters.

bbm will concentrate on diary measurement in all other tv markets.

(At press time, the Competition Bureau of Canada had not made any decision on the bbm and Nielsen deal.

(Before both parties can go ahead with the introduction of people meters and the withdrawal of diaries in Toronto, the federal body has to give its consent.)

Some of the details about people meters are sketchy.

One estimate doing the industry rounds suggests the capital cost of putting a people meter into a household is in the $9,000 to $10,000 range.

There are also other, lesser, costs to maintain it.

The sample size in Toronto is estimated to be one meter in each of 450 households, with a 20-household meter turnover every year.

People meters record minute-by-minute tuning with sample householders having to push a button to record their viewing choice.

With people meters, there is 52-week reporting. Diaries require panelists to write down their viewing in 15 minute blocks.

Diary reporting is for little more than 20 weeks a year, something one industry observer likens to ‘a postcard, now and then.’

The generally positive side of people meter measurement is obvious to many who buy and sell air time in Toronto.

ruce Baumann, vice-president and director of media services at Saatchi & Saatchi in Toronto, says people meters will allow media buyers and planners much better, more finely tuned information on programs between sweeps periods.

‘It will be interesting for us to see this kind of information on a Toronto-specific basis, Toronto being the biggest, richest market,’ Baumann says. ‘We welcome it.

‘It’s going to mean that we’re going to have to spend a little more time watching the data, and looking at it on a regular basis,’ he says.

‘And, ideally, it will provide some kind of indication of what the numbers do elsewhere that we really haven’t had a good handle on, on a market-specific basis before.’

Like Baumann, Hugh Dow, president of Initiative Media in Toronto, welcomes people meters for a number of reasons, not least because there will be more accurate information about who is watching what, and year-long reporting.

‘We’re going to have 52 weeks of audience measurement in Toronto versus the 16 or 17 or something which, of course, has a significant impact in terms of the general monitoring, tracking of shows,’ Dow says.

‘It does, obviously, provide a much more accurate ongoing measurement, with the ability to measure periods of the year that, historically, we’ve never had any information on, on a local market basis – for example, hockey playoffs [and baseball's] World Series,’ he says.

Patrick McDougall, president of the Association of Canadian Advertisers, calls the shift to people meters from diaries ‘a technology improvement,’ likening the change to a move to laptop computers from calculators.

McDougall says the changeover is not about one person being smarter than the next; it is about moving ahead.

‘I think this is one of many steps over the next several years that’ll be taken to continue to improve the marketplace from that perspective,’ he says. ‘It’s progress.’

McDougall has been a proponent of people meter measurement for some time.

Last January, he told a joint bbm-Canadian Advertising Research Foundation audience in Toronto it was deplorable advertisers who spend $1.4 billion a year in tv’s spot markets – where 75% of Canada’s television advertising is conducted – had to rely on paper diaries to track their investments.

McDougall told the bbm/carf conference that a television measurement committee made up of media industry members, after 10 months of consideration, recommended people meters for Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Rodger Hone, vice-president of new business development at CanWest Global, which owns the Global Television Network, among other properties, is less enthusiastic about people meters than others in the media industry.

one says Global has some concerns because of the overlap between diaries and people meters, and because the tv measurement business is moving towards a new form of ‘currency.’

‘We will have a mix of currency for the foreseeable future between diary measurement, in the case of Global in the rest of Ontario, while Toronto is on meters,’ he says.

‘There has been, at least to our knowledge to date, little general industry study in terms of what that mix, or what that difference, or how that difference is going to be handled within the industry.

‘It will probably take some time, whether it’s a year or two years or what have you, to work through that confusion and come up with conversion formulas and formulas to handle that mix.’

The Canadian Media Directors’ Council supports people meters, but is worried about television time being bought using two separate data sources based on varying methodologies, demographic projections and population estimates.

In a June 15 letter to bbm President Owen Charlebois, and David Tattle, group vice-president at Nielsen, then council president, Sue Jaffe says members ‘totally endorse’ the move towards electronic measurement, but points out the council’s fears.

‘Loss of tools’

‘We believe that the mechanism that has been chosen to achieve the alliance will result in the loss of valuable diagnostic tools [Micro BBM, County by County measurement through the Reach Book] and will incur considerable duplication of effort and services between [bbm and Nielsen,]‘ the letter says.

In the letter, the council urges both companies to consider its proposal whereby bbm becomes responsible for raw data collection and Nielsen takes charge of the packaging, software and marketing of the new service.

‘This alternate mechanism would deliver a more consistent product across all markets, while retaining the resident expertise in both areas,’ the letter says.

‘It would also result in the retention of the diagnostic tools and markets/area data that is an essential part of the planning process for many of our clients,’ it says.


Bruce Claassen, president of Genesis Media in Toronto, says the introduction of people meters can only be an improvement on what is available now.

Claassen says the meters mean media buyers will be able to track tv much more closely, an issue that is ‘critically important.’

Don Ferguson, vice-president of research for the Baton Broadcasting System, of which Toronto’s cfto is the flagship station, says he has been working with people meters for a while and is an unflagging supporter.

Ferguson says one of the reasons for this is their accuracy.


He says diary measurement just cannot keep up because of the wholesale fragmentation of the tv market today.

Allison Blouin, Air Canada’s manager of advertising and promotions for North America and the Caribbean, says she welcomes anything that is a more accurate reflection of what people are watching, but, in the short term, she does not believe the change to meters will have any effect.

Blouin says Montreal’s Marketel agency makes all media buys for Air Canada in North America.

Two of the larger concerns over the introduction of people meters are readjustment and cost.

But, on the evidence, it seems those closest to the change feel it can be managed successfully.

Dow, echoing Hone, says part of the readjustment will be the currency change and the pricing of television because diaries and people meters deliver different audiences based on demographic and program type.

‘There will be a pretty big adjustment period during which the currency is changed, and the pricing that will be brought about by people meters becomes set and agreed upon,’ Dow says.

‘That’s a pretty, pretty major situation,’ he says.

Claassen says there will be a lot of learning to do associated with people meter measurement, and possibly some difficulties in the changeover year, but nevertheless, reiterates his support for the move.

As for cost, it is generally agreed it will go up, although at least one prominent marketing executive, Lever Bros.’ Peter Elwood, has said paying more to get tv measurement up to date is well worth it.

Elwood has been quoted as saying:

‘The industry estimate is that [meters] will cost 2% of our current advertising, and this is an insignificant price to pay to get out of the dark ages of market-by-market measurement by diary.’

Hone says to a great extent advertisers forced the people meter issue and it will have a greater impact on broadcasters than on advertisers.

He says moving to people meters from diaries will drive Global’s costs up 100%.

Baumann says the most significant expense will be for broadcasters, although he adds everyone will end up paying more.

No wholesale change

Despite the widespread enthusiasm for what people meters offer, no one is predicting wholesale change in media buying as a result of better data.

Indeed, Claassen says the industry will not see many differences between diary numbers and people meter figures.

He says only if there are wide variances between the two systems will there be more tactical media buying.

Like Claassen, Baumann reserves judgment about what the change might turn up, saying new data may suggest some subtle ad shifting to different programs.

Other markets

If the new data do not prompt exceptional change in media buying, they cannot be expected to force consideration for people meters in other major markets either, at least in the short term.

The two markets that could, it is generally agreed, support people meters are Vancouver and Montreal, although, of course, the latter would require English and French service and cost appreciably more.

Dow expresses the hope that converting Toronto will lead to similar moves in Canada’s two other largest cities.