Saturday, June 17, 2006

Who's really watching the ads?

It isn't your imagination... there is a lot more advertising on the idiot box today. Lynn S'Douza, (director, media services, Lintas Media Group) observes in a guest column in Businessworld:(requires registration)

The average number of advertisements aired on television in a week has increased by three times in the last five years — from 86,000 in 2001 to 260,000 in 2005... This steep increase has been made possible by the addition of nearly 200 channels during this period.

But here's the really interesting bit.

In 2001, 83 per cent of the ads aired were viewed... In 2005, this proportion has dropped steeply to just 72 per cent. Which means that a good 28 per cent of the ads telecast simply have no ratings.

But in reality, says Lynn, the 'wastage' is probably a lot more. The 'peoplemeter' merely records that the TV is on - there is no way to know how many viewers were actually taking loo breaks or fridge breaks or a quick break to go stir their curries.

More data = more confusion!
The research, conducted by Lintas Media Group's 'Intellect' division further revealed that the average TV viewer watched 313 ads per week.

However, women over 35, watched 417 ads while young people aged between 15 and 34 years (at whom almost half of all ad spend was targeted last year!) watched on average 514 ads.

The housewives - I can understand. They aren't really the kinds who'd pick up the remote and go channel-surfing. But young people stoically sitting through ad breaks? Now that is slightly startling.

I know there is a segment of youth which enjoys the ads more than the programs. But could it be that large? Perhaps, but a few doubts come to my mind...

- The 'family' effect
The research shows that Hindi entertainment channels had 20,000 ads per week, but 93% of these were viewed. Now imagine you are an average young person in a single TV household. Between 8-10 pm - over dinner in particular - you are perforce tuned in to the K serial your mom is hooked to.

How many of the ads 'seen' - mainly aimed at housewives- would fall into this category?

- Is 15-34 a segment?
The idea that an ad can really be aimed at everyone from 15-34 is laughable. A person studying and living at home with parents has a very different schedule and mindset from a person working, possibly in an independent household.

More ads are, in fact aimed at 24-34 year olds than 15-24s. Cars, banks, insurance, investments, office clothing, snazzy mobile phones, everything-to-do-with-weddings. The higher income group in this segment views TV as a means of unwinding after a long day. And I honestly doubt they spend the little TV time they get, glued to the ads.

In fact, in other countries, young men 18-34 are the hardest to reach via TV advertising. An Nielsen survey in the US showed that males aged 18- 34 who are 'gamers' are defecting from TV at an even higher rate than the general population.

In India, gamers are still small in number, but I think internet use might be affecting TV viewership among 18-34 year males.

- Behaviour vs Statistics: the inconsistency
I would think a lot of young people get exclusive access to TV only in the late prime time slot. This would also be true of many in the 22-34 age group who are working.

The research finds that early morning and late prime time slots have the least likelihood of being seen. The zero rating component ranges as high as 41 to 83 per cent.

So when exactly are young people seeing all these ads??

- More inconsistencies
An earlier survey by Madison Media found that OOH or Out of Home Viewership (at workplace, eating joints or someone else's home) adds an average incremental reach of 25% reach to channels on weekdays. The study concluded that since the viewer has little control over the remote he/ she is 48% more likely to be exposed to an ad than at home.

Sports, news and music channels constitute the bulk of OOH viewership. All are genres of programming that attract youth more than any other segment, I would think.

The inference, from the research, is that the viewer would have zapped the TV if he/ she had a choice.

Definition of an 'ad'
Lastly, are channel promos incuded under the term 'ad'? Because they are not paid for but are interesting to viewers.

Oh my God, this is ridiculous!
Forget all the points I just listed above, the method used by the Peoplemeter to record data itself is deeply flawed. See how it 'works':"A sample respondent has to punch a button before his viewership starts getting recorded and punch himself off when he stops viewing".

Uh, could it be that people simply forget to 'punch out' and hence a much higher than actual viewership is reflected by default?

For all these reasons, I'd say more in depth research would need to done. Before advertisers gleefully conclude that young people really watch more advertising... So let's lay it on - even thicker.

There are other questions that come to mind. For example, does hammering one 30 second ad film for 3 months work with today's 'been there, done that, tell me what's new' youth mindset?

Sure, the audience will see an ad once, out of curiosity/ information hunger or a grudging, 'entertain me, I'm bored' attitude. But unless the ad is outstanding, few would wish to see it again and again.

This is something a few advertisers are taking note of. The new Appy fizz campaign for example. Instead of running one ad for several months, the agency has created several 'episodes'. A continuing 'story' as it were.

However given the cost of producing ad films - esp those involving celebrities and exotic locations - this may not be feasible for many brands. Besides which, getting one 'great' idea and selling it to client is tiring enough. Making a dozen films a year is something neither client nor agency seems geared up to.

I'm sure the lovely people at Lintas will one day have answers to all these issues. But we'll continue to grope in the dark, for some time to come.

As Lynn has been stressing for some time now, the 'Peoplemeter' currently in use is far from reliable. Especially in a large and heterogenous country like India. And there have been 'rigging' issues in the past as well.

But it's the best we have! And the basis on which millions of rupees are spent by advertisers.

Numbers do not tell the whole story - and so, like the blind men feeling up the elephant, media buyers do the best they can with the available information. But that has to change...

The future is here
In a Dec 2005 column in, Lynn predicts:

In 2006.. The definition of television audiences itself will change - its measurement therefore must change too.

The arrival of DTH and digital TV, says Lynn, will change the audience from passive to active mode. Just like the 'SMS response' to reality and game shows changed the dynamics of television programming.

Meanwhile, the 'Television Consumer Assessment Committee' instituted by the MRUC (Media Research Users Council) has just recognised that "there will be no such thing as an audience in the near future".

There will be only people who consume goods and services including television programming and interactive content.

Um, honestly, isn't that the only reality? The fact that we need a committee to arrive at that conclusion says something about the state of media, of advertisers, and advertising!

pic: Titan Fastrack's new campaign, courtesy


  1. hi,
    i've sent you my articles to your mail i.d
    do read my blog whenever time permits.

  2. i was wondering if even those surveys are true because as far as i know - the moment there is an ad, right from the youngest to the eldest [int the 15 and above segment i mean], everyone looks for the remote n swicthes to a different channel even if those ads are sandwiched between the cricket matches - no one even bothers to see what the ad wants to tell.. therz always something else being telecast somewhere thats worth a watch - right?

  3. Man bharmaye naina bandhe ye dagariya ....

  4. All this research is a waste of time and money of you ask me. The reason why people do not watch ads these days is because 9 our of 10 times they are either a insult to our inteligence or just plain shitty. Come out with better ad's and people will want to watch - simple!

  5. Just curious. How does the peoplemeter work? If that's a device that needs to be installed onto the TV sets of the people being surveyed, then isn't it possible that those who allow peoplemeter to be allowed are very different (in their attitudes and behavior not excluding viewing behavior) than those who do not.

    Who would want to compromise one's privacy? And with peoplemeter, does your viewing behavior remain unchanged (you have this in the back of your mind that someone's watching you!)

  6. Yes, Amit. All possibly true.
    Which is why there are several options exercized by survey methodologists to overcome this.

    For instance, in the case of your last question, one of the ways this is tackled is by NOT reporting the data for the selected home for a period of time. (Of course, the home does not know that the data is not reported) During this 'on-trial' period, the viewing behavior of the home is closely monitored. The data is reported only when viewing behavior stablizes.

  7. Hello Rashmi,
    Have been following your blog and have always likes the thoughtful contents - except for this article :)

    My interest in commenting on this post is based on the fact that I used to head research for TAM – the Nielsen organization that runs the official ratings for India. (am still associated with the organization).

    My reason for discontent: The post bases itself on the thoughts of a single person - Lynn DeSouza – whose views simply do not reflect, if not contrary to, the views of the industry. I don’t have an issue with anyone having contrary views if they are based on facts – these are not!

    Am cutting down on the technical info (long comment already!) but some points I could not resist commenting on:

    1) On a quote:
    > As Lynn has been stressing for some time now, the 'Peoplemeter' currently in use is far from reliable. Especially in a large and heterogenous country like India.

    There are two separate issues here. The first part is about technology and currently the only electronic 'currency' system *ANYWHERE* in the world is the Peoplemeter. And the second is about statistics. Of course we are a heterogenous country – which is why that is factored into the process of statistical sampling. This is something you’ll never find Lynn acknowledging despite the transparent methods used.

    2) On a point that you raised:
    > Uh, could it be that people simply forget to 'punch out' and hence a much higher than actual viewership is reflected by default?

    Of course! Which is why we spend millions of dollars on researching respondent behavior and devise ways to correct it. There are studies called ‘Coincidental studies’ that actually quantify the particular behavior that you pointed out. There are other undertaken researches (like to understand the viewer holistically (like you said - going beyond numbers)

    3) You’ve linked to one of Lynn’s article’s where she says there are better systems out there like the portable peoplemeter used in Canada. Unfortunately, Lynn Desouza doesn't say that the Association of Canadian Advertisers issued a warning to its users on the system! - which is what irks the researcher in me – lack of objectivity.

    (This is the ACA link:

    4) On ‘rigging’. The matter was settled once and for all a long time ago – in 2001! - with a presentation made to the industry body by TAM – there was no ‘rigging’. But yes, you’ll have one or two people still bringing that up - for what reason God alone knows. Maybe some unknown hatred. (interestingly, she compares the research organization to a dog in her article! - some 'research' this).

    Once again, sorry for the long comment but when I saw words in your post like the system being 'deeply flawed’, I just had to respond since that’s not true.

  8. Sharan, I have great respect for your profession and for your organisation. I do not know the history that may exist between TAM and Lynn - I quoted her in the context of her being an industry expert. Perhaps you should write a rejoinder to her piece in BW itself, clarifying certain points.

    Here's my primary concern: Are young people really watching more ads? This post was written mainly in response to that conclusion, reached from TAM data. Behaviour patterns and other studies indicate the contrary. What's your take on that?

    If you can spare the time, do explain it to me - technicals and all! You could write to me at

    And yeah, in light of new information, I am willing to eat old words. But I do have a lot of questions... :)

  9. Thanks so much, Rashmi. Especially for the patience to listen to a reseacher :)
    (God, this smiley thing is getting too much - sorry)

    I understand why you quoted her.

    Would love to explain all this! - will write to you.

  10. why is there an ad on top of ur blog then. but the lynn research may be true because i overhear many ofmy peers(in my age group) talking about ads and priyanka chopra's poses in it. but i don't see any elder even bothering to view an ad. obviously, i find ads more interesting if u take into consideration the mindless soaps or useless indian cricket display.

  11. yeah and u have better ads these days. aamir khan's "thanda samosa" campaign was good also is the fastrack ad whose pic u have picked for this article(good use of pun). i accept that some r useless like the "vip chaddi pe gaddi" ad

  12. Dear Rashmi

    It is true that I have been 'faulting' TAM for a while on their sample sizes, and intransparency of costs, a view shared by almost everyone in the industry. Other than that, I still maintain that it's a good service, and we still use it at Lintas. About the Business World column you have referred to, the entire analysis there was based on TAM data. Making the point that fewer and fewer people watch ads and therefore the advertiser has to get smarter about where he places them. However, you are coorect - this still based on old peoplemeter technology which in time to come needs to be replaced by more passive measurement systems.

    I do enjoy reading your blog, and read your outrage in the newspapers when you were unnecessarily blocked out for a while. It would be nice to catch up with you in person someday and compare notes. Till then, all the best,

    Lynn (de Souza)

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