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Astro boss: industry lacks entrepreneurialism to improve ‘flawed’ TV measurement system

Ricky Ow and Henry Tan field questions from CASBAA chairman Marcel Fenez

Ricky Ow and Henry Tan (on screen) field questions from Marcel Fenez

The bosses of Asia’s largest media buyer and one of the region’s largest pay-TV companies faced off on the contentious issue of measurement at the CASBAA Convention in Hong Kong today, after the COO of Malaysian pay-TV giant Astro, Henry Tan, accused the media industry of having lacked the entrepreneurialism to find new ways to measure pay-TV audiences for advertisers, and “hiding” behind the existing system even though its users forever complain that it is “flawed”.

In response to a question tabled by CASBAA chairman Marcel Fenez, the global leader for the entertainment and media sectors at PwC, Tan began with saying: “The sad truth is that measurement methods have not caught up with viewing habits.”

“We want to know what’s working with what target groups, and for advertisers to take corrective measures. That’s fundamentally important,” Tan told delegates at Asia’s largest annual pay-TV event.

The media industry is still “stuck” with using traditional methods of measuring TV, Tan said, and has failed to take “an entrepreneurial view” on how to improve the way audiences are measured.

“Everyone says it [the current measurement system] is flawed, but everyone still uses it. Why not use your common sense? Surely there are other inputs that can be used,” he said.

Tan suggested that media agencies combine TV ratings with social media and audience engagement data to create a new measurement system “to go back to advertisers with.”

“This is my view on audience measurement, but the [media] industry isn’t doing that,” he said.

“People hide behind the system and blame the system, rather than be practical and address the issue,” Tan said.

Also on the panel was Ricky Ow, who is just under a year into his role as president of Turner Asia Pacific, the owner of CNN and Cartoon Network. Ow said that measurement issue was an area “of weakness that we need to address.”

He said that while some data was available locally, it was missing in key markets such as Japan.

Like Tan, he suggested that media agencies, which are now armed with mature data analysis capabilities, use big data as an additional “layer” to aid their understanding of media consumption.

“I think it should be done straight away. But what’s the barrier?” Ow said.

Fenez then turned to the APAC CEO of GroupM, Mark Patterson, a CASBAA board member and its representative for the advertising industry, who was sitting in the front row of the audience.

Mark Patterson faces delegates at CASBAA

Mark Patterson faces delegates at CASBAA

In response, Patterson faced the audience and said that the industry had been trying to get “aligned to answer this question [over measurement] for the last three years.”

There have been eight to 10 different views tabled by stakeholders for how to tackle the measurement conundrum, Patterson said.

The barrier, he said, was “money”.

“As individual channels, it’s hard to get people to put the funds together to generate scaleable data to achieve the objective of growing pay TV revenues,” he said.

“We’ve tried various systems, but when it comes to the practical issue of dollars, there is a barrier.”

“Some people,” Patterson suggested, “are nervous about what the data will reveal.”

“Some people don’t ask questions because they don’t want to know the answers,” he reiterated.

Tan said that using a system that incorporated data from new sources such as social media could increase the audience sample base 10-fold, and his company would be prepared to invest in a better way to measure reach.

“Our view is that we’re not happy with a broken system and will put money where our mouth is,” he said.

Fenez then moved on to the question of how pay-TV can increase advertising revenues.

Tan began by saying that advertisers have “the tendency to be schizophrenic” in their approach to television.

Qualifying the comment, Tan said: “TV is becoming more complicated, but advertisers want a simple, short solution.”

“But there isn’t a short solution if you want an effective one,” he said, referring to the variety of different channels pay-TV companies now offer.

A more complicated array of media channels, “complicates how you measure performance,” Tan went on, before lamenting the influence of advertiser procurement departments on the way media inventory is now bought.

“Seriously, is that how you measure engagement, is that what content is about?” Tan questioned, alluding to the volume buying deals that advertisers often demand to reduce cost.

The practice of buying “as much as possible for as cheap as possible” favours only “pure efficiency,” he said.

Advertisers needed to wake up to the reality that “viewing patterns are changing,” Tan said.

Tan suggested that improvements to the quality of Astro’s content have only resulted in “minus marks” from a system that has not kept up with, for instance, the impact of high-definition programming or over-the-top (content delivered via the internet) services on viewership.

“The better I serve my customers, the bigger problem it seems to be for advertisers,” he said.

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