Canada unlikely to follow US lead in TV audience measurement

For the US, a day is going to be defined as 27 hours by Nielsen Media Research. But north of the border - as discussed at yesterday's CARF workshop - we're sticking with the status quo until a better, strictly Canuck-tailored solution is worked out.

TV audience measurement in Canada is poised to change, but it’s unlikely those changes will follow the US lead and report average commercial minutes via six separate data streams. Those six streams are: live viewing; live plus PVR playback on the same day; live viewing plus PVR playback within one day; and live viewing plus two days, three days and seven days. For this reporting, Nielsen Media Research in the US is defining a day as 27 hours.

NMR will begin a four-month evaluation period of six-stream reporting in May. But by the beginning of September, a decision has to made on which mode is the best currency for the US industry. The test period came about simply because all of the various segments of the industry couldn’t agree on a single standard.

In Canada, nothing will change until all stakeholders agree on what is best for the industry as a whole, not just what’s best for agencies, clients, or broadcasters individually. ‘We’ll end up with something that’s right for us – and we’ll get it right the first time,’ Jim MacLeod, president/CEO of BBM Canada and chairman of BBM Nielsen Media Research, said yesterday at a Canadian Advertising Research Foundation (CARF) workshop in Toronto.

‘I don’t know if it will be commercial minutes, average commercial minutes, or where it will end up,’ he added. ‘But I do sense it is going to be different from what it is today.’ For the near future, MacLeod says BBM is consulting with the industry on whether to move from the current standard of average minute audience for programs towards commercial audience measurement, plus other immediate issues such as how to deal with time-shifted and PVR viewing. Questions he said need to be answered involve how to treat playback on the same days as broadcast, and how many days past the date of broadcast should playback be included in the weekly estimates. Currently it is seven days.

After outlining the current state of Canada’s measurement system and the new technologies it needs to measure, MacLeod looked into his crystal ball at what he expects the system to look like in five years, including broadcast measurement that involves sources like Internet, wi-fi, cellphones and cross-platform audience estimates, either directly or through a type of fusion.

MacLeod summarized the next steps for the Canadian industry at the end of his presentation as needing to answer the ultimate question of what they want to measure: ‘The trick is nailing what matters, because you can’t afford to measure it all.’

Participants in the CARF workshop also got the agency and broadcaster views from Helena Shelton, SVP broadcast operations of MBS/The Media Company, and Kathy Gardner, SVP integrated media research and corporate promotions for CanWest MediaWorks. Gardner says the challenge for broadcasters is that station shifting and time shifting have created an artificial decline in home station (Canadian or local station) viewing levels. In the future, she believes audience measurement must reflect the connection between TV, the Internet and mobile platforms as they continue to merge and blend.

Shelton has a succinct opinion about what she believes agencies need from broadcast measurement: eliminating the paper diary system; increasing sample sizes; and upping the number of metered markets.

Paul Street, CTV director of research and CARF chairman, says the workshop format – with roundtable and an expanded panel discussion – allows everyone to contribute their ideas about what’s needed for Canada and the pros and cons of various measurement options. What confuses the whole measurement discussion, he says, is all the issues in the US and how they apply or don’t apply in Canada. When you add to that unique Canadian issues like time shifting, Street says Canada is an even more complicated market.

‘Because of programming and agency international ties,’ he concluded, ‘there’s a lot of American influence in our television industry. Yet so much of what’s going on there really doesn’t play a role in the decisions we have to make.’