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Credible Audience Measurement - Ali Belail

Credible Audience Measurement - Ali Belail

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Published by OSFJournalism
Paper presented in March 2011 at the conference on Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future in Cairo.

Ali Belail: The lack of a credible and verifiable audience measurement system for television in Egypt has hindered the development of television. It has stunted the growth of the essential components of a healthy television environment: the channels which remain essentially one hit (peak time) wonders, the producers- the bulk of which remain on the peripheries of the mainstream unable to break into it and of course the audience who under the existing audience measurement system remain an enigma. The establishment of a universally utilized audience measurement system is an essential step that will be a catalyst for the evolution of the Egyptian television industry. It will bring into focus the weaknesses and flaws in the existing model and open the way for innovative solutions that are contemporary and indigenous.
Paper presented in March 2011 at the conference on Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future in Cairo.

Ali Belail: The lack of a credible and verifiable audience measurement system for television in Egypt has hindered the development of television. It has stunted the growth of the essential components of a healthy television environment: the channels which remain essentially one hit (peak time) wonders, the producers- the bulk of which remain on the peripheries of the mainstream unable to break into it and of course the audience who under the existing audience measurement system remain an enigma. The establishment of a universally utilized audience measurement system is an essential step that will be a catalyst for the evolution of the Egyptian television industry. It will bring into focus the weaknesses and flaws in the existing model and open the way for innovative solutions that are contemporary and indigenous.

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Published by: OSFJournalism on May 14, 2013
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Credible Audience Measurement
 An essential step towards a more developed, diverse and democratic Television in Egypt 
by Ali E.H Belail The lack of a credible and verifiable audience measurement system for television in Egypt hashindered the development of television. It has stunted the growth of the essential components of ahealthy television environment: the channels which remain essentially one hit (peak time) wonders,the producers- the bulk of which remain on the peripheries of the mainstream unable to break into it and of course the audience who under the existing audience measurement system remain an enigma.The establishment of a universally utilized audience measurement system is an essential step that will be a catalyst for the evolution of the Egyptian television industry. It will bring into focus theweaknesses and flaws in the existing model and open the way for innovative solutions that arecontemporary and indigenous.
That all of Egypt now is at the foot of very steep hill is without question. But I am sure many willagree that some areas or aspects are more developed than others and therefore some are moreneedy than others.In the case of the democratization process in the political realm, the process is under way and thedebate and the players in it manifest a high level of awareness and sophistication: constitutionalamendments, electoral reform and laws, the role of religion; all these aspects and many more areexhaustively debated. Of course there are severe challenges but the basic and essential componentsexist: the institutions, the practitioners, the historical precedents that are particular to Egypt and theuniversal references from which to draw; and the most important component: the will to proceed toa democratic Egypt exists.The same cannot be said of media and I speak here specifically of television. If we were to judgesolely on what is reported in the media one would conclude that, with the revolution, television inEgypt ceased to have any problems except for the figureheads in state media from the previousregime who have remained. It suggests that the problems with television were almost solely to dowith propaganda and censorship and that is plainly not a fact.
 
It is high time that those in the industry engage in debates and discussions about television that dealwith details and specifics rather than generalities. When it comes to television, both state ownedand private, there is so much that needs to be done beyond issues of censorship and freedom whichhave thus far dominated mainstream debates about the media in Egypt. The need for regulation,Public Service Broadcasting, editorial integrity in news and current affairs are all issues that needimmediate attention. They are all issues that are closer to my heart and career than what I havechosen to speak about, namely: Audience Measurement of Television in Egypt.It is in my opinion a cornerstone of any developed television environment and thus far audiencemeasurement in Egypt has been wanting in many respects.I would like to note at the outset that this modest endeavour is mostly based on interviews withpractitioners on the data gathering side and channel marketing. Solid information was very hard tocome by which highlights one of the key problems with audience measurement in Egypt- that of transparency about the processes and methodologies involved. Of the three major data providers, Iwas only able to gather basic information about two companies. One uses telephone interviews togather data the day after the viewing occurs. The other company uses a diary system to gather itsdata. Both these systems are non-automated, which underscores a crucial weakness in the wholeprocess. According to experts in the field rural areas are the least surveyed in their coverage of Egypt. That alone poses another serious deficiency in the whole project.The diary system is based on a checklist that is given to households and is collected on a weekly basisand analysed to produce a viewership report that reports on ratings including the demographics of the viewership. The data is manually recorded at 15 minute intervals by a member of the household.Moreover, the diary tends to be filled out by the female in the household, which according to someprofessionals in the field leaves the male understated in the survey. The diary system also does nottake into account viewership that occurs outside the home, say in the coffee house for example,which also underlines another weakness. The proponents of the diary argue that it is gathered inreal time as the viewing is happening in contrast to the telephonic method which conductsinterviews the day after the viewing. The diary system is essentially paid for by the very peoplewhose channels are in the survey and thus potential bias can occur since those channels andprogrammes are pre-listed in the list. For the rest of the market t
here is a slot that covers “other”
channels. So while the diary system will have a list of channels and programmes to be checked bythe subject, the telephonic
system will ask the subject a general question: “what did you watch
 yesterday
”. The telephonic system eventually results in a report that
also measures ratings anddemographics.
 
Both methods raise serious questions about accuracy and integrity of the data. In the words of anexpert in the field
: “not all investment [
in
advertising] is therefore sound”.
 The current system of audience measurement has resulted in a television menu that is dominated bydrama, sports, political talk shows and entertainment talk shows and only during peak-time eveninghours. Viewing habits are monitored in wide brush strokes showing only the big and very big andcompletely disregarding genres and types of programming that might attract modest audiences butsuccessfully deliver a particular demographic to an advertiser. Current audience measurementanalysis will also tell you that morning hours are a dead time for advertisers, which must at leastraise some questions as to the viability of that premise. Morning television has its peculiarities but itis extremely successful in many parts of the world that are comparable to Cairo, if not Egypt as awhole, and Cairo is a city that can deliver huge audiences but only if there is a system that can detectthe demographics that advertisers seek and only if that information is irrefutable.In 2000, CNBC, an American cable business channel, had it largest audience ever of 343,000 viewers.While the figure is quite low considering that the channel is in 95 million homes in the U.S andCanada, it delivers a key demographic: those with the highest disposable income. The point here isthat there is a mechanism that can accurately detect figures and demographics. It also illustratesthat figures are not the be all and end all in ratings. The lack of a similar system and willingness toaccept that not all programming can have mass following, has led to a copycat culture which whilecommon in all circumstances has become the rule here in Egypt. We now have near identicalgeneral channels in terms of content because the figures apparently show that that is what peoplewant. It seems channels and media buyers and advertisers have concluded that, when it comes totelevision, all people have the same tastes. In turn this has led to advertisers, channels and a contentproduction culture that are slow in taking on new and innovative programming. So while you mightwatch with tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands some very compelling content produced inEgypt by amateurs on YouTube, turn to most Egyptian channels and you will still find the same actoror actress being asked the same questions but perhaps in a more glamorous set than the previoustime. What we have now in Egypt, especially in private channels, is a lack of variety and diversity incontent and form which does not reflect the constituency of young and talented producers, writersand directors who remain on the fringes of television. I will also dare to venture that those who wereresponsible for the revolution who produced the songs, placards and the artistically and culturallyrich atmosphere in Tahrir are also not reflected in much of Egyptian television content. And if theywere watching I can only speculate that it must have played a part in fuelling their revolution evenfurther.

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