TV ‘ratings’ and ‘decision making’
Advertising revenue is the main source of income for TV channel owners and they would want their programmes to be considered popular to get advertising revenues
There are said to be 87 TV licences given by the government in the past. Countless TV networks came into being.
Private TV channels are revenue based. This revenue comes from advertisements they get for their different programmes. Advertisers run their ads in programs most watched by viewers. The data as to which program is the most watched one is provided in Pakistan by Television Ratings Agency Medialogic in collaboration with Gallup. The rating agency uses a device called ‘People Meter’ for monitoring viewership of different programmes in different time slots. These people meters are connected with TV sets in selected households and record television viewing data on the basis of which ‘Television Rating Points (TRPs)’ are determined for different programmes on a daily basis. This data is used by TV channels as well as advertisers to keep tabs on the programmes being watched/not watched by audiences. The most watched programmes get the maximum ads while the not-so-popular ones see a change in their time slot or get dropped.
While a system of TV ratings is required, it is also necessary to make a check on its reliability. The present system is based on 675 households in the whole of Pakistan! Each of these households is equipped with ‘people meters’ that record the clicks on a programme during its telecast. These 675 households are divided about 50 percent in Karachi, and others are in nine cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Peshawar, etc. So it is clear that the responses are from urban areas and heavily loaded by Karachi responses. This sampling has been taken from a country of over 18 million. However large the number of each selected household may be, it cannot represent even 1 percent of the people. It is also to be noted that rural Pakistan is not a part of this ‘people meter’ system. Obviously the results are far from reality and should not be the sole factor in decision making by the advertisers or media managers. There is also potential danger of these ‘clicks’ being rigged or managed by powerful media owners who would want to make their programme ratings attractive for the advertisers. Advertising revenue is the main source of income for the TV channel owners and they would want their programmes to be considered popular to get advertising revenues. There are also jokes around. It is rumoured that in an anchorperson’s programme some political party representatives crossed the borders of civilized behavior and ended up fighting. While the fight was going on the controller of the programme sent a message to the anchor to stretch the fight longer because it was helping the ‘ratings’ to go up! Obviously, uncivilized behavior is not something to be encouraged, but if it helps the ‘ratings’ and brings in revenue and keeps the bosses happy then it is fine! Clearly the fighting politicians do no service to their community; they make a joke of politics and democracy.
On the other hand in the entertainment sector also the ‘soaps’ and the petty squabbles between the mother and daughter-in-law are promoted. It started with the showing of Indian programmes that reported ‘higher ratings’. The cable operators and the TV channels all competed in bringing in Indian programmehs to get ‘ratings’. It is important to know that PEMRA has found the matter completely out of its control. The limitations on the foreign content in programmes as a condition of licences are openly violated. Checks are not imposed because the government of the day does not want to displease the TV channels! The TV channel owners therefore play to the gallery, they show no consideration to the factor of social responsibility. They forget, or choose to ignore, that as communicators they have a responsibility to broaden the vision of its viewers by giving them better insight and understanding of social and political issues. The net result is that Pakistani TV drama, which was respected all over the world and which strongly competed with the Indian film overseas, is losing its standing.
Matters have not stopped here. Recently there has been a flood of second hand or even third and fourth hand plays from Turkey and other countries. These are dubbed in Urdu, purchased at a very low price as used serials and shown on the TV networks in prime time, cancelling local quality products. One channel scheduled and publicized a very significant serial of national interest, showed one episode and then suddenly replaced it with a used and dubbed cheap imported serial! Where is the moral or ethical justification for such behaviour? Prime time should be treated as a trust of the nation. People should get the opportunity to look at the works of national origin.
There is a moral, ethical and qualitative downfall. The owners of TV channels must shoulder the responsibility; the responsibility also is to be shared by the decision makers who release the advertisements. Ad managers need to do more work to help advertisers reach the actual consumers and not base their decisions on the limited ‘ratings’. There was a time, prior to the dependence on ‘ratings’, when critics in the newspapers reviewed the programmes. Many of the intellectual groups held discussions and advertisement decision makers got exposed to mature professional assessments. This helped the software makers as well as advertisers. I feel the advertiser can change the trend and bring some maturity and social relevance if they attach due weightage to the expert opinions and not rely just on ‘ratings’. The indiscriminate showing of the foreign content is depriving the local artists, technicians and producers of their livelihood.
Finally the burden of this chaos is to be borne by the government agency PEMRA who has lost all control. The responsibility also lies on government policy makers who issued too many licences and started a rat race. They also should take responsibility for cross-media licencing which gave tremendous power to the TV channel owners.
The writer is the former CEO Pakistan National Council of the Arts; Chairman Fruit processing Industries; Chairman UNESCO Theatre Institute Pakistan; COO ‘ICTV’ USA, and currently: Senior Vice President APML(Central). He can be reached at email@example.com