People metering getting ever closer

Advertisers, broadcasters, media buyers and regulators all agree that audience measurements tools are necessary.

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DUBAI // The long-running push to bring modern audience measurement tools to the Gulf's television market took a step forward today. Although the introduction of people meters has been discussed for more than a decade, representatives from advertisers, broadcasters, media buyers and regulators all agreed that the tool - which measures the number of viewers through a set-top box - was necessary and, hopefully, imminent. "The project for people metering is under discussion right now with the National Media Council," said Mohamed al Ghanim, the director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Mr Ghanim was speaking at a panel as part of a day-long workshop organised by Dubai Media City and The Nielsen Company to discuss media measurement in the region. Television viewership is presently measured by computer-assisted telephone interviews that require viewers to recall what they watched the previous day. Several research companies are used, and the results are often greeted with scepticism by broadcasters and advertisers. Any movement towards people meters would be welcome news to Louis Hakim, the vice president of Royal Philips Electronics and chief executive of Philips Middle East, who was representing the Advertisers Business Group on the panel. The ABG has been leading its own effort to bring the tool to the region. "We have over the last 30-plus years in this part of the world been sort of shooting in the dark," he said. "What is needed, and what we are struggling currently to achieve, is a proper format where transparency, accountability and reliability prevail." Sharif Badreddin, the commercial director of MBC, agreed in principle. "We have also been shooting in the dark," he said, complaining that although MBC does well in the current ratings system, "there is a lot of scepticism surrounding that". But he reminded the audience that private commercial television in the region was less than 20 years old. "The market is still shaping itself," Mr Badreddin said, noting that according to the most recent research, there were nearly 400 television stations in the region. "It has not yet reached maturity levels." In particular, he complained about the rate of advertising spending in the region. "Although our GDP levels rank among the league one and league two in the world, our per capita spend on advertising is among the lower leagues." Ziad Skaff, the group director of Integral, who was representing the media buyers on the panel, welcomed people meters but cautioned against drastic action, pointing out that media buyers had been talking about bringing people meters to the region for 12 years. "Are we late? We can't really judge whether we are slow or not," he said. "We are late compared to other markets, but we are still also young in the region. We need to evolve. We are moving there. Personally, I am happy to see that we finally have something agreed on." But many others at the workshop believed the media industry in the region, and the UAE in particular, had finally matured to a level that made an overhaul in its measurement tools necessary. Spending on advertising in the UAE last year totalled US$1.3 billion (Dh4.7bn), according to the Pan Arab Research Centre. "The current practices in the region, in general, is the old traditional style," said Mohamed Almulla, the chief executive of Dubai Media City, at a discussion on Monday. "I think we have been lagging behind in media tools." For its part, Nielsen was eager to expand on its ad hoc market research business in the region to include syndicated media measurement as well. "We think you are at a crossroads," said Lorraine Hadfield, the managing director for international audience measurement at Nielsen Research International. "And we think this is the time to seize the day."