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MTVE, Viva Stoke Rating War

MTV Europe is trouncing Viva among German viewers, according to an independent study the network has proudly released, but Viva has commissioned market research which suggests just the opposite.

This week’s clash, typical for one of Germany’s most hotly contested niche markets, also was fought with added intensity as the national ratings system falls further into disrepute.

Neither London-based MTV Europe nor German-language Viva has ever consented to let the national ratings agency (GfK) measure their performance. They contend, among other reasons, that the system gives them short shrift by ignoring viewers who tune in outside the home. In the absence of an arbiter of general taste, the result has been a tooth-and-nail fight for advertising spending since Viva came online in December of 1993.

The latest round in that battle was joined early this week, as MTV trumpeted the results of the Niko Advertising Index, which said that in a sampling of 5,000 interviewees, 21% of the vidcasters’ target audience of 16-to-34 year olds had watched MTV Europe the night before, as opposed to 16% who had tuned in either Viva or youth-oriented RTL2, in homes which receive all three channels.

Viva, however, contended a day later that it was the sovereign of the two music channels in Germany, claiming 4.5% market share to MTV’s 2%. Those results are based on a one-month study conducted by the Hamburg research consultancy GFM-Getas in 1,000 German homes, where participants were asked to record their viewing habits every 15 minutes over a period of four weeks. The margin of error in that estimate is 0.5%, according to Rainer Arenz, who conducted the research.

But Viva paid as much as $330,000 (DM500,000) in advance for its research; the Niko Index was first compiled independently, then sold to MTV for an undisclosed price. Independent analysts polled informally by Variety were skeptical about the method in the Viva-sponsored test, saying it harked back to an outdated era in television research.

Dear diary

“Originally, the diary method was used in the days before there were meters,” said Dr. Peter Steinborn, who directs communication research at Munich’s Infratest. “The problem, essentially, is that there can be a distortion effect, though it hasn’t been proved. When the methods were used previously in the U.S. and England, the logs were left in homes for weeks on end and there was a suspicion that they (the viewers) came to think of themselves as experts, not participants.”

Other analysts point out that the method is subject to inaccuracies: Lazy participants forget to enter the programs and then play catch-up before the books are due; some viewers claim to have watched more socially acceptable programs than what they actually preferred to see.

Screen test

At a press conference Jan. 25 in Berlin, researcher Arenz brushed aside those concerns, saying that participants were carefully screened, twice reminded by telephone to fill in their logs and that ultimately some 50 households were disqualified after accuracy checks. Arenz and colleagues contend the diary method is still widely used and that the number of discrepancies in their research is negligible.

The Niko Index, carried out as a joint venture between AC Nielsen’s Hamburg subsidiary and a German consultancy, interviews 15,000 people a year – the second-largest media research study in Germany – assessing brand recognition, consumer preference and viewers’ recall of aired commercials.

Its market share estimates, which portray MTV clearly in the lead, are based on the latest wave of 5,000 interviews done in November and December of last year in which they asked young people: “What did you watch last night after 6:00 p.m.?”

More discredit

If they were at odds with one another, both studies nevertheless brought further discredit to the national ratings agency, which published erroneous ratings in November and December of last year due to a software glitch and was forced to stop publishing ratings altogether from Jan. 16-23 of this year.

The GfK has traditionally argued that a negligible percentage of German viewers watch TV from sets outside their homes.

That assumption now seems seriously undermined.

Germany went through the throes of its first niche boom last year and the Niko Index, for instance, suggests that one in every seven of MTV’s viewers do not watch from their own homes.

Dr. Harald Josse, who conducted the research, pointed out that the high incidence of out-of-home viewership was particular to niche audiences, not just MTV.

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