“In fact, objections to the TV ratings thing are not entirely new. The first objection raised against the ratings benchmarking came from the Uzan family, owner of Star TV, which was ranked behind its competitors no matter what it did.
The Uzans even resorted to violent methods, harassing benchmarking company AGB Nielsen. Hakan Uzan reportedly intimidated company executives. But why? The Television Monitoring Research Committee (TİAK) identifies the most frequently watched TV programs. Advertisers or, more precisely, media agencies distribute the budget they have based on the results of the rankings. The most viewed receives the largest amount and the least the smallest.
The TİAK ratings were reshaped after a process administered by the International Advertising Association (IAA) last summer with the joint participation of the Advertisers’ Association and the TV Broadcasters Association. They decided to seek out another ratings institution to replace AGB and they settled on Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS). A multinational enterprise, TNS has acquired the rights to rate the programs, effective summer 2012. Of course, this all happened in late September 2011 when the rumors — indicating that a list of households in which the AGB was carrying out ratings measurements was no longer confidential — became widespread.
First objection from TRT
Naturally, the first objection to AGB-led ratings measurement was raised by the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). The total ratings of all 15 TRT stations did not even reach the level of the most-viewed program in AGB’s ratings list, and this was the primary reason behind the objection by TRT chair İbrahim Şahin. I think it was best that the TRT decided to question this mechanism. Otherwise, had other private stations done this, the objections would not have been taken seriously. But it is not right to restrict the problem to ratings monitoring. There is also the other side of the coin: the news media. The newly launched shows on the stations where the most-viewed shows are broadcast are seen in the news media as magnificent pieces. If you recall, in reference to the TV series “Muhteşem Yüzyıl,” which had been covered by print and visual media for 15 consecutive days, I said in my column in the Zaman daily in January that the value of this media promotion was worth $1.5 million in advertising dollars.
The TV series was also criticized; the comments of those who said they did not like it right after its broadcast influenced viewers. This inevitably negatively affected the TV channel’s ratings. Those who were able to speak loudly were also able to influence perceptions. In the meantime, it was said that the total worth of the advertising business in 2011 was TL 5 billion. Sixty percent of this amount comes from the TV business, which stresses the importance of the ratings monitoring.
Match-rigging, fraud; what’s next?
At a time when we were heavily occupied with match-rigging allegations, we failed to react to all these rumors and reports indicating that 1,100 out of 2,220 AGB household addresses were on the market and being purchased. This should have then been handed over to police. And this is exactly what happened. Even though the management of the ethical dimension is the duty of the ratings company for the sake of its honor, the issue should be broadly considered because of the size of the marketing communication sector. In other words, the vision of the media and advertiser, and the strength of their association, will suffice to manipulate and direct this process. In this case, why have police been involved in the process? I think this is one of the things that we need to take into account.
The investigation was initiated Dec. 14; TİAK and the Association of Television Broadcasters (TYD) came together to hold a meeting in order to assess the situation on Dec. 15. TİAK chair Hidayet Karaca made a brief but eloquent statement. He said, “We will be following the process, and we will share the information we receive with the public.” But there is one serious problem with respect to the whole issue. How would you ask these 2,220 families if their information and identity have been revealed? This is an investigation that proves to be costly for both the families and the police.
Contract with AGB annulled; what’s the next move?
TİAK has decided not to work with the ratings institution anymore, given that there was no confidence and faith in the ratings monitoring; subsequently, it stopped the monitoring as of Dec. 20, 2011. The committee also unanimously decided to carry out monitoring activities with TNS, with whom they have already signed a contract. Let us say this is a proper decision; but will we learn lessons from past mistakes? And what should be done to make sure that the same thing will not happen again? The brands, corporations and institutions which invest a lot of money in advertising would like to know whether their monies are being used properly; in other words, transparency and measurability are essential.
In light of the ratings fraud and abuse of power, should we ask whether the same fraud has occurred in the other types of media, including print, radio and Internet? Should the advertiser consider the total number of viewers or the quality of the target audience? How proper is it to disregard the consumer profile? Shouldn’t all this require a proper questioning of print media as well? Should we discuss the ranking methodology of the Press Monitoring Research Committee (BİAK)?
What is more important: numbers or perception?
The BİAK report ranks the daily newspapers by number of readers per one copy as follows: Cumhuriyet 9.2, Milliyet 7.9, Posta 6.5, Takvim 5.2, Vatan 4.9, Hürriyet 4.8, Akşam 4.7, Güneş 4.6, Sabah 4.2, Habertürk 3.8, Türkiye 2.9, Bugün 2.9, Yenişafak 2.5, Star 2, Zaman 1.8. In other words, this list says you should multiply the number of copies sold for a given paper with the number of readers per paper, and advertising dollars should be consistent with the results. If this view is adopted, the papers with the smaller circulation figures will receive a greater amount of advertising money as the top of the list includes smaller-circulating papers while the highest-circulating Zaman is at the bottom. However, it was just the opposite in the TV ratings.
There is other, similar research being done in other parts of the world, and because it was assumed that the research could be extensively discussed and manipulated, it was concluded that circulation figures instead are trustworthy. The surveys and research are mostly used to identify the readers’ profile. In consideration of the discrepancy between the findings and results of the BİAK report and Target Group Index (TGI) marketing and media survey, some media agencies in Turkey have now decided to rely on the number of copies sold for their media-planning activities. In the meantime, and perhaps this isn’t well-known, but only Zaman is subjected to professional monitoring and inspection.
Let’s be honest!
I believe that everything should be investigated and questioned for transparency. Let us investigate fully, and then figure out what is appropriate and right. But let’s also be honest. If media agencies or advertisers tell some papers and TV stations they will not buy ads, it would be more ethical. It is not ethical to avoid this and then rely on the controversial rankings. We, the agencies, the advertisers and media, all components of the marketing and marketing communication sectors, should be critical of ourselves so that we will be entitled to criticize others. Is this not the right time to question all ratings methodologies, including the one adopted by BİAK at a time when TİAK is being discussed?”