Television measurement: for better and worse


The measurement of television viewing should become more accurate in the UK, following the introduction of hybrid measurement, which integrates TV viewing on PCs, tablets and smartphones into overall viewing numbers. Accurate measurement is fundamental to the largest ad product in the world: TV advertising, worth £3.9 billion per annum in UK. Hybrid measurement is expected to increase viewing figures for younger age groups – which have the greatest tendency to watch online – by 5%.

Accurate measurement is fundamental to the largest ad product in the world: TV advertising, worth £130 billion per annum globally, which is priced by ratings. Measurement has been critical to the continued TV ad spend against a background of increasing hours spent online and declining spend on other traditional media. Further, share of viewing audience is a key performance indicator for any license-fee funded channel.

Audience size still matters for pay TV operators, for advertisers, and for on-screen talent looking to understand the potential exposure that a television appearance would offer. Subscription video-on-demand providers wanting to show advertisements are also likely to offer their usage data for including on core TV viewing data.

In the UK, as in most of the largest TV markets, television viewing volume is monitored via viewer panels. When panel members start watching, they press a button, and a device in the home notes which program is being watched at that time, and who is watching it. Viewing data from each household is uploaded and analysed, and typically published the day after. These panels are considered highly accurate at measuring live and catch-up viewing on TV sets.

But monitoring has not kept pace with some of the recent changes in viewing behaviours and devices. For example, TV viewing is no longer restricted to television sets. In recent years, about 1% of viewing has been via on-demand services, typically with laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but also connected TVs. On-demand viewing in the UK is growing at about 25% year on year.

We estimate that viewing on non-TV devices in the UK is about one to 2% of all viewing. But among younger viewers, the proportion is typically higher, at up to 5%, and crucially this is the age group that watches traditional television least. Under-counting this group would affect the perception of television’s relevance and impact.

Hybrid measurement will not however reflect consumption of TV schedules of other countries, delivered via broadband. In the UK, as of the 2011 census, 12.3% of the population (42% in inner London) was foreign born and 8% were foreign citizens: many of these would like to be able to watch that country’s TV schedule. Satellite is one way of addressing this demand, either via subscription from domestic satellite-based broadcasters or by installing larger dishes. However this approach can be expensive and limited: the international channels of foreign broadcasters may not show the programs that friends and family of the foreign-born individuals are talking about.

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