A Crikey reader had written the following which calls into question the way the current ratings panels are being assembled:

I have been reading with interest your continuing articles on this year’s ratings battle. I think, however, I have found an unaccounted for statistical variable that may be influencing the ratings figures.

Last night our household received a telephone call from Australian Television Ratings who wanted to know if we were prepared to participate in the TV ratings for them. Apparently if we participated we would get a small gift.

Having indicated that the household would be more than interested to use the extra remote control to monitor our viewing habits the company spokesperson inquired as to how many television we had – embarrassing to admit 3 working televisions for just the two of us. They also asked if one of the televisions was a plasma TV which we said yes being proud owners of one of the thin big screens.

Sorry we were told “you can not participate in the survey for the next 3 months until we update our technology to be compatible with plasma TVs” – well there goes the small gift!

It did get us wondering if excluding plasma screen viewers such as ourselves might be the reason so many tacky reality shows are rating so well. I mean you would hardly bother with a big plasma screen to watch Desperate Housewives would you?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I reckon the gels of Desperate Housewives would look just fine in widescreen plasma or LCD, don’t you. So too Mark Ferguson, Ray Martin, Friday night footy, Test cricket, AFL, even Big Brother. But TT was also contacted by ATR recently and checked out. It didn’t get to plasma TVs because when asked how many TVs in my house, I said one, an old fashioned CRT. That would explain why I am now on standby to go onto the ATR panel.

I was actually contacted by a market research company working for ATR. But the reader’s point is a very good one. With so many widescreen plasma and LCD TVs now sold (not to mention the very small but growing group using their PCs) there would seem to be a small but growing statistical glitch in the sample group for the ratings. This means that the panel is ‘skewing’ to certain consumer groups and away from a broad-based sample.

ATR is working on this solution, according to industry sources that will enable it to measure the use of plasma, LCD and digital TVs.

That will be welcome, but it does indicate a certain slowness off the mark at ATR, and Oztam, the company owned by the networks which buys the ratings. Plasma, LCD and digital TVs are not new products. The widescreen plasmas are now into their sixth or seventh generations, LCDs are about 4th or 5th generation