TV media buying 101: audience measurement techniques

Posted by KImberly Armstrong on Oct 10, 2013 3:41:00 PM

How do you measure and evaluate a television media buy in a world where audiences watch on smart phones, computers, tablets, television--or even video on demand? It's a question tormenting both media buyers and advertisers.

Any media buying strategy needs to rest on a foundation of reliable metrics. Without a firm understanding of who is viewing what when, an advertiser or their agency cannot make an accurate assessment of potential returns. They will inevitably find themselves wasting money on media real estate that doesn't reach their intended target.

There are two methodologies utilized in Canada to measure television viewership which often paint different pictures. Understanding the methods, and knowing how to apply the information they generate, is therefore crucial to any media buying strategy.

Audience Measurement Systems

Portable People Meter

Major markets in Canada (Montreal French, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) are measured using Portable People Meters (PPM).

Developed PPM meterby United States-based consumer research firm Arbitron, BBM Canada launched a joint bid with Arbitron in 2008 to deploy PPMs for electronic measurement in Canada. PPMs became a single source measurement, meaning one panel measured and calculated both TV and radio ratings.

With PPMs, selected household panels wear a device not unlike a pager as they go about their day. The pager detects inaudible codes that broadcasters embed in the audio portion of their programming. The codes tell BBM what station people are watching what day and at what time.

Using station schedules, BBM then attributes minute-by-minute audience to programs. The age and gender of the individual household representatives are determined with personal questions.

The benefit of PPM measurement is you get year round measurement. Additionally, it eliminates many user error issues, such as simple forgetfulness and intential inaccuracy. Each household participant wears their own monitor and BBM logs each monitor separately, sidestepping mistakes made in manual reporting.

PPMs also pick up pre-recorded programming, with the audience attributed to the original telecast, as long as they view it within 7 days of the original airing. Programming that is streamed live and includes the same commercials as the TV airing is also included in the audience measurement, as long as the broadcaster encodes the show.

There are some drawbacks to PPMs. While they provide better estiimates, they are not available in all markets. In addition, a viewer is included in a program's audience after only 30 seconds of viewing. Previously, at least 5 minutes were required within a 15-minute period. I agree with many others who feel 30 seconds is not adequate.

Audience from video-on-demand, tablets, smart phones and computers (unless the programming is live) currently cannot be counted wtih PPMs as that would require a separate code for each episode and platform. BBM is currently testing PPMs for non-linear viewing with 3 major broadcasters for first run Canadian conventional programming. Results are expected to be released in Spring of 2014.


BBM Diaries

For the remaining TV markets audience measurement metrics comes from the diary system.

The diary system operates very simply: household panels are selected to represent the general population. Each member of the household, 2 years or older, is sent a diary. The participants manually enter information about themselves and what shows they watch at what times for a one-week period. The audience data received over several weeks is compiled and released twice a year (Fall and Spring).

There are several inherent flaws in BBM diaries. You are relying on people being honest about their TV viewership. Then there is the issue of forgetfulness: a participant may simply forget to write down what they watched. Diaries for younger viewers are filled out by the main household contact or another adult member of the household which can add to inaccuracies.

Compared to PPMs, BBM diaries show a general trend of over-reporting of prime time television and under-reporting of 'fringe' television after 11:00 pm.

While respondents are asked to note other sources of viewing content outside of TV, the audience is not attributed to the broadcast airing. So--like PPMs--this viewing is absent from any program audience estimates.


Whether you are dealing with a PPM or BBM Diary market, it's important to remember that both are merely estimates of potential audience. By having a solid understanding of how audiences are measured and the advantages and disadvantages of each methodology, effective buys can be executed using the data, but just as importantly need to be coupled with sound buyer judgement.


Joanne Crump, VP Media Services Director

Topics: Media & Marketing, media buying

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