Playing the rating game

Detailed research still primitive in Asia

HONG KONG — BBC Worldwide would like to inform you that it’s trouncing the competition in Hong Kong.

But wait a minute — Singapore-based business channel CNBC thinks it’s on top. Meanwhile, CNN’s Asian headquarters is maintaining a dignified silence and waiting for more comprehensive data to arrive.

The only thing the networks do agree on is that they need better information.

From January to March, the BBC bragged that ratings agency AC Nielsen tagged it as the top news channel, reaching 11% more viewers than either CNN or CNBC. CNBC took out full-page trade press ads claiming its victory in a different category, average weekly viewership.

AC Nielsen expanded its Hong Kong people meter panel to 600 homes in January. But the data segment the networks were bragging about has been discontinued, because small research panels caused wild variations in the numbers.

Selective interpretation of ratings data is nothing new. It’s just that in Hong Kong, and Asia in general, detailed research is still in its infancy.

Information available

“There’s more information around now than there’s ever been, but Asia’s not as well developed as some other markets,” says Simon Twiston Davies, executive director of the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia.

That has left players like CNN and the BBC feeling as if they are groping in the dark. “We desperately want ammunition to give to the advertising agencies,” says Nic van Zwanenberg, BBC Worldwide’s new head of network development for Asia.

The programmers might be skewering each other in public, but behind the scenes they’re cooperating to accelerate the development of more detailed research.

The BBC, CNN and Discovery Channel are investing in an improved pan-Asian survey to provide regional ratings later this year. It is an expensive, complicated process covering a continent with multiple languages and 14 markets.

“It’s been difficult for the agencies to measure viewership in the past — these channels are so niche, it’s still relatively difficult to look at them with people meter data,” says Nathan Waller of ad buying firm Zenith Media. “But it’s beginning to grow, because a few of the broadcasters are really pushing for it.”

They will be hoping they like what they find in the end.

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