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Ratings Back After Error Of The Waves

German television ratings will be back on track sometime this week, executives at the official rating agency say, following a software glitch that skewed results erratically in ’94’s last months.

On nine days in November and December, officials at the Institute for Consumer Research (GfK) were forced to admit that devices in several hundred of the GfK’s 3,900 test homes were misidentifying the stations viewers were watching.

According to Uwe Domke, GfK’s head of data processing, the error only occurred in some satellite viewer homes, particularly in those homes where new measuring devices recently had been installed.

The problem, however, went unnoticed until Dec. 14, when the PRO 7 network and Kabel 1 (formerly Der Kabelkanal) complained that viewership numbers didn’t make sense.

Within two hours of receiving the calls, technicians had identified the software problem, but could not immediately fix it. The inaccurate numbers persisted through last week.

Glaring discrepancies were recorded in November, when SAT 1 came within less than half a percentage point of its chief rival and the traditional market champion, RTL.

The bogus figures showed SAT 1 more than 2 1/2 points behind. The software failure affected as much as 10% of all test homes in December.

The ratings mishap put added spin on the race for end-of-the-year bragging rights. Even after reliable figures had been set, each major network declared itself a winner of sorts.

Pubcaster ZDF faxed Variety to say it had tied for first place with top commercial network RTL, each ending the year with 17.3%.

RTL, however, declared itself 1994’s undisputed champion, saying it beat out ZDF by half a point.

As it turns out, the ZDF numbers reflect households, the RTL figures absolute numbers of viewers. But, with the GfK discredited for the moment, each web seemed intent on crowning itself king of something.

SAT l’s New Year’s dispatch hailed that web as the people’s favorite – on the last day of 1994. Mini-net PRO 7 took a slightly different angle, congratulating itself on being the only network to gain market share – a whopping 0.2%.

Despite those technical snafus, however, it is the GfK that had perhaps the best reason to raise the glass: Before the ratings meltdown, its exclusive contract to conduct TV research for all the stations, worth $11 million (DM18 million) last year, was renewed for another five years.

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