Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Oct 19, 2002
TV channels in off-field dispute ESPN-Star, MAX spar over ratings, viewership numbers
CHENNAI, Oct. 18
The ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 is a good three months away, but there is plenty of excitement to be had, both on-screen and off. It is apparent in not just the Pepsi ads on air, but also the ongoing disputes over ratings and audience numbers between MAX and ESPN-Star Sports.
MAX, a division of Sony Entertainment Television, has been tom-tomming its brand of cricketing entertainment and the high ratings for the recently concluded ICC Championship Trophy in Sri Lanka. Excluding the finals, MAX, which has exclusive rights for ICC cricket tournaments until 2007, first claimed that it had reached a cumulative audience of 90 million viewers, of which 34 million were female. This was an unprecedented growth over ESPN's NatWest series reach of 33 million, it said.
Wait a minute, said some dissenting voices, sports telecaster ESPN among them, when rating agency TAM's universe is only 63.95 million in the 15 markets that it surveys, MAX's numbers do not add up.
To clarify, MAX took out a full-page ad in a business daily this week, stating that its audience reach was actually 50 million individuals, and that the gross reach was 1,233 million. It was a matter of a "decimal error" in the earlier set of numbers, clarified Mr Rajat Jain, Executive Vice-President and Business Head, MAX, to Business Line.
"The cumulative reach (includes all individuals who have tuned into the channel for at least a minute during the tournament) was actually over 900 million, not 90 million, so we actually understated it," he said. The reach among male audience was therefore 560 million, and female audience, 340 million, he said. The gross reach, he explained, is the sum of the unduplicated reach multiplied by average frequency. This means that each viewer for the stated time period is counted only once.
Not to be outdone, ESPN sent the media its reading of the TAM figures: the cumulative reach of ESPN during the NatWest series, they said, was 45.49 million, as compared to MAX's 49.89 million. Besides, ESPN achieved that reach in only 10 matches, as compared to MAX's 16 matches. Also, the total TAM female universe in C&S homes surveyed is only 30.19 million. NatWest reached a total of 21.09 million, while Max reached a total of 22.96 million females.
"Gross reach is a good number to show high viewership, but it is not that relevant to media planners," said an ESPN spokesperson. "And the numbers have to be relative to the target audience which, in this case, is males aged 15 years and above."
Mr Jain of MAX defends that reach can be defined in different ways, and that cumulative reach is really the "logical way to look at it". "The guy who has seen eight matches is more important to the advertiser than the guy who has seen just one match, and that frequency has to be reflected," he said. "This is what the advertisers look for, too."
AC Nielsen TAM's television viewership ratings are compiled every week; the data has given broadcasters and advertisers actual numbers to set targets by and compare reach with, rather than the shot-in-the dark games they used to play. However, the data is also open to interpretation, and that has resulted in confusion and oneupmanship from time to time.
Confirming that there are different ways to measure viewership, Mr Atul Phadnis, Director, S-Group, TAM Media Research, said that it is important that TV channels and the media define the context better. "The numbers reported must be defined within the scope of the market, the target audience, the period of comparison, the time slots and the parameters of comparison - like ratings, cumulative reach or average ratings," he said.
MAX's Mr Jain, too, admitted that the difference lies in the interpretation: "We do present the facts, but there are different ways to look at it," he said. "I will interpret it to my benefit, and my competitor will interpret it to his benefit. So unless it is tightly bound, it becomes a subject for debate."
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