Ratings romp? TV networks float weekly reporting as viewing shifts; agencies say it's painting a 'rosier picture'
Media agencies have pushed back on a proposal from Seven and 10 to replace the decades-long ritual of overnight ratings with a seven-day reporting cycle to capture ongoing shifts in viewing times and screen types. Some critics say it's to “paint a rosier picture” of declining audiences across linear TV and others were “confused” as media agencies typically report to clients already on a similar cycle. Broadcasters point to the US and UK markets as already there.
What you need to know:
- Seven last week proposed an industry agreement to end the reporting of overnight ratings, moving to a seven-day cycle. Ten are also understood to be interested in changing the reporting method.
- Seven’s James Warburton argues the move is about giving a more complete picture of overall TV audience viewing.
- Media agency executives expressed confusion over the move, given most agencies have post-campaign reporting of seven and 28-day cycles.
- iProspect’s Ken Lam says the news felt like an attempt to “paint a rosier picture” of TV audiences.
- Publicis’ Jodi Fraser argues it’s likely in preparation for the launch of cross-screen measurement platform VOZ.
- Active International boss Sarah Keith says the move could allow networks to reduce adloads, provided the seven-day figures prove audiences are still standing.
We are looking to create a serious step-change in the way the industry views the reporting of TV audiences, something the UK and US have already adopted. This may mean pausing the release of those numbers until the industry adjusts.
Leaders from across multiple media agencies have pushed back on a proposal floated last week by Australia’s free-to-air networks to ditch overnight audience reporting.
For decades overnight ratings have provided journalists and TV network spin doctors with acres of easy daily ratings war stories. But spearheaded by Seven’s James Warburton, some broadcasters want to change the “outdated” conversation around TV audiences and their viewing behaviour.
Warburton tells Mi3 the approach has been accepted by every network, bar Nine, and has been put forward to the Media Federation of Australia (MFA).
Seven's boss says it would require the industry to no longer be given overnight numbers unless there were valid reasons for an exemption – series launches, finales and major sporting events.
He did not rule out the possibility of having the numbers stopped for a short period of time to “correct the behaviour”. This would mean having OzTAM halting the release of daily figures.
“We are looking to create a serious step-change in the way the industry views the reporting of TV audiences, something the UK and US have already adopted,” Warburton says.
“This may mean pausing the release of those numbers until the industry adjusts.”
Industry insiders told Mi3 that the plan was as much about agencies as it was how the trade press report TV figures on a daily basis.
One exec says the issue isn't with how agencies view audiences but rather those within marketing teams. They argue that "perception eventually becomes reality" and reports of poor nightly performances jade the overall audience figures for a show.
Nine declined to comment but the idea of forcing behaviour change on the Australian market around overnight reporting has been discussed by all the TV networks for at least five years.
Media agency executives, however, voiced confusion over the approach.
Publicis Media Commercial Director Jodi Fraser says it is unlikely to cause any major changes to behaviour, given the reporting cycle of most campaigns for advertising schedules already sits between seven and 28-days.
She says the decision looks like a pre-emptive move to get agencies thinking more about the upcoming impacts of cross-device measurement system VOZ.
However, Fraser says it’s “unnecessary”, as agencies are more interested in a better view of the digital numbers than worrying about overnight audiences.
“This feels like an odd change to push for, as we’re not really that engaged with the overnight figures compared to a seven or 28-day cycle – that usually only applies to sales periods or for brands with short-term sales windows,” Fraser says.
“If they really wanted to improve the reporting methods in the meantime, they could release the raw data of people viewing BVOD each day in viewership by the thousands – that would give agencies a better overall audience picture.”
If they really wanted to improve the reporting methods in the meantime, they could release the raw data of people viewing BVOD each day in viewership by the thousands – that would give agencies a better overall audience picture.
Night over it
Ken Lam, National Head of Investment at iProspect Australia isn't surprised by the networks attempting to find a way to paint a "rosier picture", given audiences are "once again declining by double digits year-on-year".
He says removing overnight reporting and shifting to a seven-day consolidated number may do the exact opposite when it comes to delivering greater confidence and transparency.
"There’s no hiding the fact that audience behaviours will continue to evolve as evident by the exponential growth in BVOD consumption, which will continue to fragment traditional TV audiences," Lam says.
"So it’s even more important for advertisers and media buyers to understand how audiences consume and interact with content in order to optimise across platforms and devices in real-time (or as close to), to drive better outcomes.
MD of indie agency Ryvalmedia, Joseph Pardillo, is adamant that overnight ratings remain critical to agencies, especially those working "intimately with their clients’ businesses end-to-end".
"The ability to overlay daily ratings with daily sales results, foot-store traffic and customer enquiry levels is a critical data point to help inform whether there needs to be a quick pivot in a client's marketing and media investments," Pardillo says.
"Overnight TV figures have also never been more prevalent in a market where, particularly over the last 12-18 months, more short-term bookings are made as brands seek more fluid ways to deploy their screens tactics to capture audience attention."
Quick to remind agencies that overnight ratings are still "essential to the business", ViacomCBS ANZ content boss Beverley McGarvey says the increasing competitiveness of primetime programming alongside external streaming players has changed the TV landscape.
She says focussing on a seven-day reporting model is more reflective of audience trends and captures the "true size of the live and playback television audience watching".
"The ability to overlay daily ratings with daily sales results, foot-store traffic and customer enquiry levels is a critical data point to help inform whether there needs to be a quick pivot in a client's marketing and media investments
Making good on it
PHD Australia MD Lucy Formosa-Morgan says overnight data "absolutely matters", as it gives agency teams an immediate read on the performance of programs.
She says this is important to bear in mind with news and sports, which are two of the strongest overnight programs that also have a minimal catch-up audience.
However, she says the proposed reporting changes are likely aimed at reducing the volume of makegoods and inventory pressures the networks are receiving with current audience shortfalls and strong market demand.
"If we were to wait until the consolidated data comes out (a further week) to start having conversations with the networks about shortfalls, it’d be too late to get on top of how things are tracking and make any realistic changes to a particular burst or campaign," Formosa-Morgan says.
"The networks are hoping to delay having these conversations until the seven-day figures have been released and factored into post-analysis tracking rather than having a preliminary conversation and then a follow-up conversation."
Active International Australia MD Sarah Keith believes there may be another motivation behind the strategy, focused more around "decluttering" the linear TV market.
She says networks could use the inflated numbers, which were previously reported as increasing by 20-40 percent, to "add value" back into the medium and lower adloads.
"Due to the static market that Australia's TV networks operate in compared to the US or UK, where long-term deals are more common, the fragmentation of audiences means they need to find a way to prove value outside of overnights," Keith says.
"By switching to 7-day consolidated figures there will be an obvious audience increase, which they could then use to prove a lessened impact on revenue and possibly argue to decrease overall adloads.
"It's a theory but would make sense given the ongoing conversation from some of these networks around premium adloads."
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