Glenn Dyer (aka Terry Television) looks at whether there is any in-built bias in the current TV ratings systems and gets a speedy response from CEO of OzTAM:

The Crikey Daily – 9 March

A Crikey reader has written the following letter, 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 televisions 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, to 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 Terry Television was also contacted by ATR recently, checked out, and am now on standby to go onto the ATR panel, as I only have an old fashioned CRT – no plasma for Terry TV.

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 fourth or fifth generation.

OzTAM responds to Terry Television

Kate Inglis-Clark, CEO of OzTAM writes:

Terry Television’s piece yesterday about inclusion of plasma TVs on the OzTAM panel warrants a response.

Firstly, it is not correct that viewers with plasma TVs cannot be included on the OzTAM panel. In fact there are already a number of homes with plasma TVs on the panel and their viewing is measured. We also measure TV viewing across other TV types such as LCD and of course CRT.

It is worth noting that Digital Broadcasting Australia reports the total sales of LCD screens in Australia to December 2004 as being around 85,000. With over 7 million television homes in Australia, the incidence of LCDs is at best around 1%.

OzTAM is also well advanced in measurement of digital terrestrial homes, which will be included in the panel later this year. OzTAM continually monitors the incidence of new types of TV equipment in Australian homes and uses this information to ensure that when there is sufficient penetration of these types of equipment within TV watching households, we are able to measure them.

The OzTAM panel is balanced to ensure that we maintain a representative picture of television viewing households. Terry Television’s survey participation was in the ongoing Establishment Survey which surveys 30,000 households each year to gather information on that representative picture and from which potential homes are identified for recruitment into the OzTAM panel. However it is unlikely that he will be on the waiting list for inclusion in the panel, as those working in television related industries are specifically excluded from participation.

Kate Inglis-Clark

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