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Wishful thinking? GCC media’s People Meters mystery

Wishful thinking? GCC media’s People Meters mystery

After eight years of hearing of TV audits 'coming to the region soon' I'd much rather wait for it to actually happen before giving anyone a pat on the back.

February 19, 2012 3:27 by

It was slightly amusing to read the article on The National this Sunday about talks being “under way to introduce a Gulf-wide system to measure TV audiences.”

The headline read: ‘TV people-meters nearer for GCC states’. I wondered exactly how much nearer is the initiative from coming to fruition compared to where it was eight years ago when the TV auditing ball began to roll, ever so sluggishly.

I hope you’ll forgive my skepticism and allow me to show why I won’t be holding my breath when it comes to the implementation of TV measurement in the UAE, let alone in the GCC.

First, let’s talk about what People Meters is all about. It measures viewing habits of TV and cable audiences. It’s basically a box that is hooked up to your TV set (if you agree to be part of the sample household network) and monitors the channels you watch, the frequency you watch them and even logs in the time in which you watch TV. Of course the technology is a little bit more complex but that’s the basics of it.

Brands benefit from know this information because they are able to target their audience more specifically then just ad blasting TV audiences in blind hopes that their brand and products will register.

Now, let’s flash back to 2004, when the GCC’s largest advertisers got together to form a new body that was designed to improve above-the-line media and audience measurement in the region.

This wasn’t just an ordinary club of advertising geeks. The GCC Advertiser’s Association (GCC AA) was attended by big media spenders from P&G and Pepsi to Citibank and Nissan. Together these companies represented more than $300 million of the region’s $1.5 billion annual spend in the year it was formed. It was to be a local chapter for the global group, World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

First on the group’s agenda was the drafting of a TV Charter, designed to align the regional TV ad market with international best practices.

According to this archived press release, dated 2006 (yes, two years after the launch of the GCC AA), from Unilever ME, The Charter covered issues including “minutes of advertising per hour, solace breaks, bundling, among others, in order to restructure the regional TV ad landscape and set new standards for the industry.”

A little online digging will also show you that the group put together a Circulation Audit Steering Organization (CASTOR) which was devised along with media agencies and the International Advertising Association (IAA) to establish standards in print.

The GCC AA also put together the Project Illumination Board which was primarily in charge of getting the People Meters Project up and running. With an initial funding of $300,000, the TV project was supposed to have brought People Meters in Saudi Arabia by 2007.

There were no signs of people meters in 2007 but the group did rename itself the Advertisers Business Group (ABG) during the year. This time they are operating under the umbrella of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The Chamber’s involvement and active participation at this time is a key issue for the group as it will lend credibility and authority to our collective effort to create a professional media environment to keep up with the growing advertising spent in the region,” said Unilever’s Jan Zijderveld who was the ABG Chairman at the time.

Zijderveld has since moved on to Unilever’s South East Asia & Australia dividion and then went on to Europe, where he was named the FMCG giant’s Europe President in 2011.

People Meters? Still at the planning stages.

In 2008, ABG got its second wind with the appointment of Philips’ Louis Hakim, who brought a renewed enthusiasm for putting TV advertising measurement in place. He put together a 5-year plan that included setting global standards in media, advertising and marketing. It included drawing up an advertising ethics code.

Do you see a cycle here? From what I can recall, things are always getting started but promptly fizzles out (or is it out of favour?) in the media industry.

It is eyebrow-raising (to say the least) how advertisers seem to be climbing an impossibly high barrier to better media measurement. Some might argue that these projects are all a bit theatrical, but with millions of marketing dollars stake, that idea is almost criminal if it were true.

And now, eight years since the launch of the GCC AA, with General Motors’ Fadi Ghosn at the helm, ABG is attempting to wipe the slate clean (crossing out former initiatives like CASTOR and Project Illumination) and bringing in new third party agencies to help put measurement practices in place.

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1 Comment

  1. karim on February 20, 2012 6:37 pm

    For sure it will never take off because the major TV stations and the god fathers selling their media space are bound to lose. People meters will shed light as to the real viewership habits in the region which are almost 180 degrees different from what the so called ‘existing’ research says. It is common knowledge that it is almost insulting to call the TV studies that exist research because the questions are prompted etc etc etc.. bottom line .. people meters are not in the interests of the major TV stations whose viewership is inflated thus they can inflate their rate card. Likewise , suppliers that sell the media space of those ‘major’ tv stations will lose their power since people meters will expose true viewership habits


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