Salman Danish Naseer, Director – Medialogic, gives a detailed analysis to Synergyzer about the television viewership ratings business in Pakistan and what the future holds.
Synergyzer: Your name has been synonymous with Medialogic — the leading enterprise in the TV audience measurement business — since 2007. How has the system evolved in Pakistan over the past decade?
Salman Danish Naseer: The system has evolved in multiple directions — panel size, technology, corporate restructuring and regulatory mechanisms.
We began with a sample of 500 households in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and have grown it to 2,000 plus; comprising 9,000 plus people.
Geographic representation went from three cities to 28, then came down again to around 15 because initially, we believed the more cities covered, the better it would be. Eventually, we concluded that the panels in tier-three towns were not comprehensive enough. It was difficult to maintain confidentiality, too, as in small towns, everyone knows everyone’s business. Also, one cable operator usually serves practically every household, so rather than be spread too thin over numerous small towns, it was better to maintain larger panels in the bigger cities only. But we didn’t reduce the number of meters, meaning that those 500 meters in Tier 3 cities are concentrated in six cities rather than 16.
On the technology front, we switched from Growth from Knowledge’s (GFK) telecontrol meter and reporting software to Kantar Media’s more advanced technology and Infosys software, which is currently the global benchmark. Our own internal structure has evolved. Aly Mustansir has invested in the company and is now the CEO while I am a Director. Aly heads operations while I support him from Lahore, since our headquarters and data-center are here.
As for regulatory mechanisms, the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) was the initial supervising body, then the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) took charge in 2011-12 and brought PAS back into the picture in 2016 to form a joint industry committee comprising of a research council. In 2018, a Supreme Court ruling appointed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) as the regulating body.
Synergyzer: How has the Pakistan Supreme Court ruling in 2018, according to which PEMRA was appointed the regulator, change matters for Medialogic?
Salman: The Supreme Court ruled that PEMRA will act as the regulator and licensee for the TV viewership ratings business, as a representative of the Government of Pakistan.
This means that, firstly; any company that wants to enter this business has to get a license from PEMRA, just as they would do in order to establish a TV channel or radio station. This is way there can now be multiple ratings data providers, yet they must all be registered with PEMRA and must put their tariffs on the regulator’s website.
Secondly, all data must be given to PEMRA, which will then disseminate it to those who want to buy it. Tariffs are listed on PEMRA’s website, Medialogic servers are placed on their premises and we invoice the regulator monthly for clients’ due payments, which are paid to us after the regulator’s licensing and administrative fees are deducted. Thirdly, the advantage is that now there are laws governing the business and safeguarding our interests. PEMRA conducts third-party evaluation of each ratings company’s panel size, data frequency and data quality. Ratings data is a complicated commodity, and we have been criticized in the past for instituting a monopoly. Due to PEMRA coming into the picture, now the onus of proving accuracy and transparency is not on us, rather on a government regulator and our critics can see how the other companies compare with us.
The disadvantage is that now everything has to go through PEMRA which sometimes frustrates them as well as the TAM licensees. Certain decisions, payments and other matters can get delayed as the necessary approval from the regulator takes additional time. PEMRA has multiple licensing regimes and TAM is one of them. Their time and resources have to be split amongst these various licensing regimes, which obviously causes delays in decision-making at times. However, we are fortunate that the licensing authorities at PERMA understand our problems and try to resolve them as much as they can.
“If one channel is being watched continuously watched over an extended period of time, the system raises a flag because that points to possible influencing.”
Synergyzer: How does Medialogic ensure that there are no discrepancies in the ratings?
Salman: The system in Pakistan is the same as in much more advanced TV Markets. Data quality is ensured by the internal quality controls in the Kantar system, which is the same in Pakistan as that being run in Europe, Canada and other countries.
It’s a fully automated process that safeguards against any possibility of manual intervention. Once the meter captures what the TV set is viewing, the data can only be seen after it has been processed into its final, numerical form. No one can look at raw data or interfere with it in any way before being released to Clients. Every individual has a separate log-in button on their television remote control. If a person logs in simultaneously say, to their bedroom television as well as the one in their lounge, the system recognizes this as an error and rejects that data. If one channel is being continuously watched over an extended period of time, the system raises a flag because that points to possible influencing. If a person does not log in for seven consecutive days, that’s also flagged. Although such deviations maybe understandable during Ramzan or a cricket series, but if viewership behavior changes suddenly or drastically for no reason, the built-in quality checks in the system raise alarms.
Any deviation from the usual is flagged and this lets us extract the best quality data possible. Having said that, no data is ever perfect and we are the first ones to admit this. Which is why we are always looking to improve the system. Like the rest of the world, we are now actively looking to assimilate IPTV data into our dataset to make it more robust.
Synergyzer: Pakistan has very diverse audience representation and a vast demographic and psychographic landscape. Do 2,000 households provide adequate representation, especially in terms of regional channels?
Salman: We do not determine the 2,000-household panel, the clients do. We can do a panel of 10,000 if the clients are willing to pay for it. The panel size and dispersion are determined every two years through an establishment survey, which lets us see what demographic changes are going to take place in the population, and we can change our panel accordingly. Also, it is important to understand that we simply provide data for regions of urban Pakistan and not for Rural Pakistan because very few clients are interested in paying for that data.
We are often criticized that our data does not represent Regional Channels adequately. When planning the panel in Pakistan, we kept in mind the geographical base of regional channels and included cities like Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur to pick up on Sindh’s regional viewership; Peshawar to assess Pashto viewership; while Multan evaluates Seraiki viewership and Quetta represents Baluchistan.
If you look at data from Sukkur or Larkana, you will know that the Sindhi-speaking population is not just watching Sindhi channels; rather they also watch Urdu channels most of the time. The viewership of regional language channels may be slightly higher in non-metropolitan areas but there are multiple dimensions to what the data implies, and the real challenge is to draw correct conclusions from it. For example, the Sindhi channel’s viewership from Sukkur or Larkana loses its impact the moment Karachi is included since Karachi’s population is ten times larger than a number of smaller cities combined, which is why Karachi’s data becomes the most important criteria for national planning due to its population, and not because of the number of meters.
We can’t force clients to buy data for, say the whole of Sindh, although we do provide that backup. It is the job of the regional channels to convince advertisers to look at that data.
Yet, having said all of this, we have entered into an agreement with Pakistan Telecommunications (PTCL), which has its SMART TV facility installed in 200,000 households. This will help us generate much more in-depth, consistent and richer data than before.
“In most international cases, a joint industry commitee supervises and regulates the business. This system allows for only one company to operate in the TV ratings business.”
Synergyzer: Are there any political or other influencers that try to impact Medialogic’s rating system?
Salman: We are in a unique business where every channel is unhappy with us to a varying degree. All TV channels genuinely feel they are the best and when they do not get good viewership ratings, they get upset. Even the number one channel might gripe that the number two channel is too close; it should be farther away. In fact we work on the principle that the moment a client says, “There’s nothing wrong with the data”, we know something is off!
The kind of data-commodity that we deal with is so unique that essentially, all competing TV channels like Geo, ARY and Express are our clients. But they trust us because they genuinely believe that there is never any deliberate bias in our data. If we favor one client, the others will not subscribe to our service.
Pressure from political parties, regional channels and certain lobbies is all part of the business, but we can’t succumb to it, because once you bow down to one element, you can’t say ‘no’ to anyone else.
Synergyzer: What is your opinion on more companies being allowed to enter the TV channels viewership ratings business, especially since internationally there is usually one provider for such ratings?
Salman: Previously, Medialogic faced a lot of criticism about being a monopoly in Pakistan, but anyone can enter the television ratings business now, and we genuinely encourage competition because being the only player, it’s difficult to know — and show — how good you are. The fact that most clients prefer subscribing to our data despite more than five companies getting license from PEMRA is a testament to our data quality.
Internationally, there’s often only one player because firstly, the assumption is that it’s better to have one viewership ratings service with 4,000 households, rather than four services with a thousand households each, as subscribing to multiple players means the clients’ money will be divided amongst multiple companies and panels and therefore the overall data size will remain small.
The other reason is media currency, on which media is traded. Advertisers need to buy media and broadcasters have to sell it. With multiple players, broadcasters will always quote the one giving them higher ratings; advertisers will negotiate by quoting a channel’s lowest ranking in order to get the lowest rates and the best deals. How do you structure equilibrium in such a situation?
Thirdly, in most international cases, a joint industry committee supervises and regulates the business. This system allows for only one company to operate in the TV ratings business, which is answerable to the joint industry committee, which evaluates whether the level of service is good enough or not and calls for tenders every five or seven years and then new companies are given the service if the old one is not performing well enough.
Synergyzer: In 2020, ratings of news channels dipped. Still, viewers did not switch from news to entertainment. Why?
Salman: 2020 was a unique year with unique trends because of COVID-19 and lockdowns. People were at home all day, with not much to do and, as the news is repeated every few hours, they naturally switched to entertainment channels. After a few months, though, this viewership began to fall too and kept falling.
My theory is that, as lockdowns extended, some viewers moved online to digital platforms. This resulted in people improving their data connections, and the telco business boomed. Now, we may not have actual data to support this theory, but experts are of the opinion that people started watching either similar entertainment-oriented or special interest content online on YouTube, TikTok and other such free or paid platforms like Netflix etc., which diverted viewership from the television medium to the digital medium. Unfortunately we do not have any third party digital viewership measurement till now but I hope that soon we can expand our service to cover digital viewership as well.
“Certain decisions, payments etc. can get delayed as necessary approvals from PEMRA take additional time. PEMRA has multiple licensing regimes and TAM is one of them.”
Synergyzer: More advertising airtime was allocated to news channels while entertainment channels have the major share of the viewership pie – nearly 50% versus nearly 25%. Why?
Salman: One reason was the sheer number of news channels — more than 15 or 20 New Channels as compared to four or five entertainment channels. The other is that advertising rates for news channels are, on average, much lower than those for entertainment channels. So while the share of minutes may be higher on News but the share of Spend on Entertainment channels is higher.
Synergyzer: Viewership ratings of entertainment channels do not grow quickly, yet they do keep increasing the price they charge for selling airtime every year? Does PEMRA have the authority to check this increase?
Salman: PEMRA cannot and should not be involved in everything.
It is a competitive market, so let the buyers – advertisers – and sellers – TV channels – decide the price. If the cost per rating point (CPRP) of a channel is too high, clients will simply stop advertising on it. We should not put a ceiling on prices till a channel stays viable for advertisers, because if a channel is investing more in its content, it must get returns on investments. Why should it not charge a premium price then?
The inventory of commercial airtime on entertainment channels is not much, so their advertising cost is higher. In fact, over the past couple of years, entertainment channels have not increased their airtime prices by much.
Synergyzer: How is the boom in digital media impacting Medialogic’s business?
Salman: Not much, because we measure television viewership, but it’s surely an opportunity because, globally, things are moving towards cross-media measurement (CMM). You can’t monitor media viewership in isolation as the same television content can now be seen via digital media. Hence, we are now moving from television audience measurement (TAM) to total video measurement (TVM). And clients in Pakistan really need that data to optimize their budgets.
We have talked to Google — which doesn’t share its data with others — for adopting the reach curves it uses and to see how we can collaborate with it to enable CMM to some extent. We may not be able to capture everything, but it will be a good start, engaging more platforms to measure their audience.
It’s not viable for us to get data from every digital platform. Hence, if the customer base of different digital platforms like PTCL Smart TV or Jazz TV or Goonj TV are similar; and even if we are able to source data from a few of these platforms it’s quite representative of the overall digital viewership trends. This means we can pick and choose, rather than trying to cover each and every one of the platforms.
“All TV channels genuinely feel they are the best and when they do not get good viewership ratings, they get upset.”
Synergyzer: What has the impact of COVID-19 been on your business?
Salman: We got time to step back and assess strategic initiatives that we always wanted to explore. We had delays in implementations, but made progress in collaborations, planning and deployment of technologies. The extra time let us quickly reach the PTCL Smart TV integration agreement, and initiate deliberations with Google for CMM and research automation. In terms of business strategy and diversification, we are in a much better place than last year.
The negative impact is relatively less because our business runs on subscriptions, but 2020 was definitely a tough year since several companies reduced their media spending. Fortunately, Pakistan has been lucky; advertising restarted much sooner than expected and, as a result, we did not feel a drastic impact. Our data collection was affected as we could not send teams to visit households for many months, and resultantly the data collection got affected. Still, we managed to work effectively as much of the system is automated.
Synergyzer: What can we expect from Medialogic in the future?
Salman: Strategically, we are working on two directions. One is to start some level of CMM (Cross Media Measurement); integration of TAM and digital audience measurement. The other is automating traditional pen-and-paper surveys. Essentially, we are a technology company, and there’s potential in automating consumer research, retail research etc. If brand managers can get a survey done in a day, why should they have to wait for a month?