TAMS consists of a sample panel of television households which provide daily information on their viewership.This information is extrapolated to represent the total South African television viewing population. Research company Nielsen Media Research is contracted by SAARF to operate the TAMS Panel. TAMS ratings are critical to the business of advertiser-supported television broadcasters as they represent the currency on which advertisers base their decisions to purchase advertising on television.
Television broadcasters called for the audit of the TAMS Panel after they noticed serious shortcomings in the TAMS ratings during the course of last year. The SABC and e.tv had experienced an inexplicable fall in ratings in certain LSM (living standard measures) groups, particularly LSM 4 to LSM 6 which constitutes the lower to middle income South Africans who are the largest consumers of free-to-air television.
The audit, conducted by French media research audit firm CESP (Centre d’Etudes des Supports de Publicité), showed serious shortcomings in the conduct of the TAMS Panel research which confirmed the concerns expressed by the television broadcasters as early as August 2012. In summary, the audit showed that the TAMS research had:
• Failed to keep up with the evolving South African demographic profile
• Only partially measured certain homes
• Failed to balance the panel by individual LSM
• Failed to properly maintain the household meters used to gather the TAMS information
• Failed to manage the declining efficiency of the panel.
• All of the above-mentioned failures resulted in unstable data from primarily lower LSM households
The essential effect of the findings was that upper income television households were over-represented on the TAMS Panel as compared to middle-to-lower income television households that were significantly under-represented. In the South African context, this effectively translates into an over-representation of white television viewership and a serious under-representation of black television viewership. Not only is this morally unacceptable in South Africa in 2013, it has a direct financial impact on the free-to-air broadcasters who broadcast programming to the majority of South Africans. Of even more concern to the SABC and e.tv was that this state of affairs had been on-going for many years without any intervention from SAARF executive management.
The SABC and e.tv are still calculating the loss of advertising income experienced as a result of the failures of the TAMS Panel but it is estimated to run at hundreds of millions of Rand's. Certain limited remedial measures undertaken by Nielsen Media Research since the television broadcasters first raised their concerns have confirmed the validity of the audit as lower and middle income audience ratings have improved with a concomitant reduction in upper income audience ratings.
The audit results prompted the television broadcasters to seek a significant change to the operations and structure of SAARF. This was critical considering the past failures of the TAMS Panel and the fact that the changing media landscape demands a rigorous professional approach to television research.
Despite the efforts to engage with SAARF on these issues, it has become apparent to the SABC and e.tv that the concerns of free-to-air television broadcasters are not being taken seriously and have not received the urgent attention from SAARF which they demand. The SABC and e.tv therefore fully support the NAB intention to resign from SAARF. As the SAARF constitution requires a full calendar year’s notice, the effective date will be 31 December 2014. During this time, the SABC and e.tv will act in good faith to ensure the continuity of television research under SAARF while alternatives are being established.
The SABC and e.tv look forward to initiating consultations with other advertiser-supported broadcasters with a view to establishing an industry research body that is sensitive to the fast-changing demographics of South Africa and that treats all South African audiences with equal importance. The SABC and e.tv firmly believe that this will be to the benefit of all stakeholders in the broadcasting industry as South Africa moves to a digital free-to-air market.
The SABC and e.tv in the near future will host a press briefing to provide further details on the TAMS Panel, the recent TAMS audit, and the proposed way forward.