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Eleanor HallEleanor Hall hosts The World Today's lunch hour of current affairs, with background and debate from Australia and the world. Monday to Friday, 12:10pm, ABC Local Radio.




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Australian television ratings system in a mess

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The World Today Archive - Friday, 2 March , 2001  00:00:00

Reporter: John Stewart

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Well ratings are everything to our TV networks, fortunes of course change on the turn of one or two points as media buyers and advertising agencies look for the best place to put their clients' message.

This year a new organisation is in one the ratings, OzTAM. And the Packer Family interests aren't at all happy as the first results come in from OzTAM. Their Nine Network copped a ratings hiding. But it seems OzTAM may not have been the one to get it right. Leading competitors to contemplate humble crow rather than rooster crowing.

As John Stewart reports, the Australian's television ratings system is a mess at the moment with two competing ratings services producing contradictory results.

JOHN STEWART: For weeks Channel Nine has been under siege with the new television ratings provider OzTAM producing the worst ratings results for the Nine Network in years.

Channel Ten and Seven fared better and for a while it seemed Channel Nine had been knocked off its perch as Australia's highest rating television network.

But in a memo written to OzTAM's clients, the ratings provider admitted its samples need fixing.

OzTAM's CEO Ian Muir says all new samples need to be adjusted.

IAN MUIR: Every sample over time needs to be changed because a sample is a living thing and we have to always keep it in balance with the population as we see it.

JOHN STEWART: Has there been an over representation of families with young people and a shortage of older grocery buyers and a shortage of younger grocery buyers without children?

IAN MUIR: We admitted to that in a statement we sent out to our clients yesterday. There's nothing unusual in that. As I said a minute ago every panel has over and under representation because it is impossible to get it in balance all the time.

JOHN STEWART: Should Channel Nine be leaping for joy that these results for them have in fact been wrong or would their results still be close to the mark?

IAN MUIR: Well that's a very good question. No two panels will ever give the same answers. It wouldn't matter who was doing the panels, the results would be the same. It's not just Channel Nine. Channel Nine, Channel Seven and Channel Ten are facing a tough advertising market at the moment. That is sort of the economic condition we're all surrounded by and I think everyone's feeling a bit bruised at the moment because business is tough.

JOHN STEWART: So if the skews are readjusted it may not mean that there are thousands or tens of thousands of more people in fact watching television.

IAN MUIR: That's right.

JOHN STEWART: It could be a down turn for other reasons.

IAN MUIR: That's right. I mean the world is changing. We have a higher incidence of pay television, we have Internet, we have all sorts of other things.

JOHN STEWART: Throughout the ratings scandal, Channel Nine has continued to pay ACNielsen to provide an alternative source of audience ratings. ACNielsen has produced vastly different results to OzTAM showing Nine on top of the TV networks battle.

Peter Cornelius is head of the Media Federation, a group which tells advertising clients which networks to advertise with. He welcomes OzTAM's admission that its sample needs correcting and he says it's time for ACNielsen to reveal the make up of its samples.

PETER CORNELIUS: So whilst OzTAM has come out and released this information overnight which I think is very admirable. It's information that we've asked for, we're still asking for the same sort of information to be released from Nielsen's. It seems to me that potentially there are issues within both ratings companies that we need to explain, not just OzTAM.

JOHN STEWART: So it may not necessarily be that OzTAM's sample is wrong but that its sample is different from ACNielsen's.

PETER CORNELIUS: That's exactly right. You've got two . like any survey, you have two surveys that are . that in theory are trying to do the same thing but they have been traded in different ways. You know, the make up of the panel it would seem to be is potentially quite different between the two.

JOHN STEWART: Could ACNielsen's sample be skewed in one direction as well?

PETER CORNELIUS: It could well be.

JOHN STEWART: But ACNielsen's ratings service hasn't been challenged until now has it?

PETER CORNELIUS: I think that's right. I think that's been one of the interesting issues with this process has been that yes Nielsen's have not been the dominant, they've been the only television ratings company so it's been a classis monopoly. We have tended to accept the numbers that come through as being . you know, as being 100 per cent accurate as best a survey can be. And I think what's this showing up is as we investigate further and understand into the, sort of, the guts of how these things work which we normally don't get access to, we only see the really . the output. It does show that like any survey there are . there are skews that exist.

JOHN STEWART: Privately, Channel Nine is pleased with OzTAM's admission that its sample needs changing. The admission justified Nine's use of keeping ACNielsen as an alternative source of ratings. If OzTAM's new sample is friendlier to Nine then the network can dump ACNielsen and Australia's television ratings mess can be sorted out once and for all.

ELEANOR HALL: John Stewart.
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