The declining viewership trends which are shaking media owners in Europe and the US have yet to make any significant waves here in Asia and this means TV measurement is as contentious as it is important. It also gives measurement in other media many of its cues.
"By and large it is TV measurement which is the most advanced and most talked about. For the longest time TV was the dominant medium for advertising and so the most investment for measurement went to TV. It is only recently that people are exploring measurement in other media," Rahul Welde, VP Media (Asia, Africa, Middle East & Turkey), Unilever, says.
It's been ten years, and counting, since the serious discussions over of a pan-Asian or regional TV measurement system were gaining momentum. Today, says Turner International Asia Pacific's VP of research, Duncan Morris, "we'd still be faced with the same question marks". For a regional measurement system to work, the industry needs to come together but the pay TV channels aren't on the same page - some want it, some don't, others sit on the fence.
Morris isn't a fence sitter though and admits that he is less interested in the development of a TV measurement system for the region, and is leaning more towards the development of a multi-media measurement system.
"It's less of an issue than it used to be. At the time it didn't go down too well because of the prohibitive costs involved and some question marks about the quality of the samples. Those question marks are still there but what has changed, as a whole, is media consumption. It's not just about TV anymore," he said.
However for some, like the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), it is all about TV. Representing over 125 Asia-based corporations, CASBAA is one industry-based advocacy group that can push hard for a regional measurement system for TV. For years now it has been publishing the Power of Pay TV (POPTV) report which acts as a resource to illustrate the role that multi-channel pay TV plays in marketing.
Phillip Jones, regional director of SE Asia and Pacific for Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), says although CASBAA would be the "obvious" pick to drive a standard TV measurement system for the region, it "can't force" any of its members to do anything, like for example, put money into a pie to develop the mentioned system.
CASBAA has recently, thanks to some well publicised investigations into cable theft at pubs, gained more credibility as a force for protecting the rights of its members, prompting some to suggest it shouldn't be underestimated as a positive force for driving measurement reform.
Apollo, we have a problem
If there is to be a standard TV measurement system for the region, then media owners will be the ones to bear the brunt of the costs. For research, for example, media owners shell-out 80% of the costs. A substantial investment will be needed to develop and manage such a system. CSM Media Research's business development director, Matt Brosenne likened the funding issues that dogged Project Apollo in the US with what the industry here may face.
When Project Apollo, a JV between VNU and Arbitron, was first announced, it was hailed as a potential breakthrough for ROI metrics but when it was revealed it could cost as much as US$100 million (S$135.87 million) to get the service off the ground - the industry balked, deciding it was too expensive an investment to make. Apollo was, technically, able to determine how exposure to a wide variety of media and marketing tactics influenced purchases but it shut in February this year, having failed to obtain the necessary seed funding needed. As if any further indication of the difficulty of getting a powerful consumer measurement tool off the ground was needed, the project not only saw The Nielsen Company and several major ad agencies championing and investing in it, but also major client marketers like Procter & Gamble, and yet it still failed to launch.
"As an industry do we have US$100 million to spare and then if I invest do we get US$150 million (S$203.81 million) back? The real critical issue moving forward is whether new technology will decrease costs involved but it's not going to happen with the economic situation it looks like we're going to be faced with. In tough economic circumstances, one of the first to go is additional money on research," Brosenne said.
If this is the question the industry as a whole has about such a project, perhaps it ought to refer back to the above mentioned report about wasted marketing spend and consider how much money the industry is already expending on a lack of proper measurement.
Who picks up the tab?
New technology is likely to decrease the costs involved in developing a pan-Asian TV measurement system but it's also unlikely to render popular existing currencies such as Synovate's Pan Asian Cross Media (PAX) study or TNS's people meter ratings system, useless.
"It's very difficult for one system or methodology to answer all the questions, given the diversity of viewing platforms and the nature of business in all of these markets. While I think there's no one adequate solution some of these methodologies need to evolve over time," Anand Rego, director of research for ESPN Star Sports, says.
The people meter ratings system may be one such methodology that will need to evolve. Discovery Networks Asia uses both PAX and the people meter ratings system, and its VP of research, Wanda Gill, complains that while it gives real-time measurement - something which PAX cannot as a recall study - the people meter system is designed with terrestrial channels in mind and does not work to Discovery's "full advantage". But TNS's Jones is unapologetic about it, saying "if the cable broadcasters and cable providers are not prepared to put their hands in their pocket and pay for it, then they can't expect to be given services or have other people develop services for them".
Jones explains that in most services the amount of dollars put in by the Free-To-Airs (FTAs) outweighs the cable group 6:1 and in some markets 10:1. He also calls on providers like the StarHubs to "get on board" for the development of a regional measurement system for TV but Singapore's dominant pay TV operator isn't keen on the idea.
"While we won't outrightly say 'No' to a standardised system that already has the support of the entire pay TV industry, the impetus for such a project should come from regional players first, not local ones," Germaine Ng-Ferguson, AGM advertising sales, corporate sales for StarHub, said.
However Gill says a "good scenario" would be an industry body comprising of broadcasters (both terrestrial and pay TV channels), cable operators, advertisers, ad agencies and TV regulatory bodies to "make it a truly syndicated study that can balance the needs of interested parties".
Turner's Morris, says these considerations were "outdated". "The more pressing need is to look at things from a multi-media point of view and, clearly, if you want multi-media measurement you have to focus on the individual consumer rather than building separate measurements for each media and trying to combine them somehow," he says.
A regional TV measurement system is unlikely to happen in the next few years, or even in time to be relevant, but according to Jones, "a major area of the industry going forward" will be TNS's Return Path data services. The system requires digital, which means the roll-out will be critically-dependent on whether a market has adopted digital, and collects information from the remote control on how consumers use cable set top boxes in the home.
"There isn't people data and so it has limitations, and we admit that, but it certainly gives you a lot more granularity in the data," he says.
CASBAA CEO Simon Twiston Davies thinks what the industry needs right now is some blue-sky thinking on how to improve on existing platforms in each market and then implemented.
"One idea is to utilise the 'personal meter', either a watch or a mobile phone type apparatus, which a selected sample of viewers will carry around for a few weeks, recording their exposure to any electronic media which has been tagged with a recognition code. This is easily done at the broadcast end but so far none of the broadcasters here in Asia have picked up the challenge," he says.
Media measurement is of course important to media agencies as well and Mediaedge:cia's regional director for MEC MediaLab, Jon Wright, says, "Reliable media measurement is vitally important, even in the increasingly media fragmented markets, to be able to properly measure the potential delivery of channels and to form the basis of a trading currency.
"This responsibility I believe is on the media owners to establish this, albeit as part of an industry committee to include agencies and advertisers," he said.
However, Synovate's Harvey puts the responsibility on the advertisers to start demanding for the development, saying that "ultimately they pay the bills and have a vested interest in how their marketing budgets go down into the research they get". He cited Vietnam as an example where advertisers took a more active role in driving TV ratings research.
In the end the biggest obstacle for a region-wide TV measurement system could simply be that Asia, with all its different markets, should not be clumped into one group which is what CASBAA's Davies says is a "common error by critics of audience research".
"Nobody is to blame, countries are just different and any service in operation today is given one primary mandate - reflect the market where you are," Brosenne from CSM said.