EXCLUSIVE: Networks coding single shows as multiple-titles for ratings glory are set to come under scrutiny by OzTAM.
This year the top-rating TV show of the year was just 7 minutes long.
The Block: The Winner Announced pulled an audience of 3.37m viewers, rising above the average for The Block Auction of 2.73m viewers. It was followed by Australia’s Got Talent: The Winner Announced at 2.98m viewers for a 10 minute programme.
It’s a practice that’s been going on for some time by all three commercial networks including for MasterChef, Australian Idol, My Kitchen Rules, The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance, AFL Grand Final and more.
The commonly-held view for doing it is that shorter programmes will net a higher figure rather than an average across long finales. The benefit is in nabbing headlines the next day that paint a positive picture.
But 2011 saw the practice being used even more creatively, including when The Celebrity Apprentice applied it to one hour weeknight episodes coded with OzTAM as two titles.
How far can it go before many of our primetime shows have 2 or more ratings figures and should OzTAM, as some TV critics have suggested, rein in the practice sooner rather than later?
Victor Corones, Managing Director of media group MagnaGlobal, says while advertisers look at minute by minute results he isn’t a fan of the practice.
“It does create a little bit of confusion by having multiple variations of programmes,” he told TV Tonight.
“Generally whenever we look at any programme analysis we look at the whole programme and not just those things in isolation. The reason we say that is because we can’t actually buy that particular part of the programme.
“When we buy into The Block you’re buying into the whole show unless you’re a sponsor in which case you get some control over placement.
“There’s usually a flat rate across the entire show but potentially the networks could look at selling The Winner Announced as a separate opportunity. It tends to be the sponsors who get the preferred placement.”
He sees the practice as a marketing ploy rather than being a strategy driven by clients.
“Each of the networks are obviously looking for ways to create headlines that can get their story across in terms of how they are performing,” he says.
OzTAM CEO Doug Peiffer told TV Tonight they currently log programmes as they are submitted by networks, but was aware of industry concerns about coding shows separately.
“Obviously there has been some movement in the amount of this occurring,” he said.
“From our point of view it’s something we should look at if the industry is having issues with it. The data is still accurate if you do minute-by-minute, and if you do time-based analysis such as 6-7 or 8-9. But it is adding a level of complexity in terms of people using the data.
“It’s causing a little angst with some of our data users.”
Last week TEN began coding its 90 minute News as two titles, one as 5-6pm and another as 6-6:30pm. TEN News at Five averaged 610,000 viewers while TEN News at Six averaged 339,000 viewers. A week earlier at 90 minutes the average was 548,000.
One Programming source told TV Tonight their “hand would be forced” if competitors made a regular habit of coding segments of shows separately.
Peiffer recalls, “I remember somebody once coded the Lottery break which came up as a 5 minute programme. So at that point people started saying ‘Let’s run the top programmes based on anything more than 5 minutes.’
“Now we’re getting to programmes that are 7, 8, 15, 20 minutes and it’s harder to do. People are trying to see how a franchise performed, such as MasterChef, or MasterChef on Friday. I don’t have a problem with having that second layer because that programme is a little but different. But when we start chopping it up into smaller amounts then it gets to be an issue because there’s no consistency.
“I don’t think we want to start chopping the News down into quarter half hours.”
OzTAM is in early discussions with industry over the coding issue, concerned it may be causing confusion.
“We take the logs as given to us and we take all of the responses from our clients and we’ll table them at an industry forum and try to work out a solution. That could be either coming up with some rules on how to code the programmes or do it ourselves –but that adds another layer of cost because we’ve got to employ people to sit down and do it.
“For us it’s really about the industry and how they use that data that will dictate how we fall on this. They will apply pressure to the networks and us as well and we will have a robust discussion on it.
“It’s just about getting all the providers of programme names to be sensible.
“People are raising it, media buyers, people inside Programming, and the ones who are really raising it are the users –the ones who run the software who try to come up with a sensible average for a programme, and they’re the ones who seem to be doing the hard leg-work trying to put it back together.
“So we’ll discuss it and see if we can come with an industry agreement on it.”
Corones says networks need to start being more realistic so that media agencies know exactly what they’re buying into.
“I don’t think it’s ideal. In the long run you want to be looking at how a show is rating overall and networks breaking it into these special windows aren’t really doing themselves any favours,” he says.
“When they look at each other’s ratings they’re all probably rolling their eyes at one another but not prepared to back down.”