Free-to-air broadcasters the SABC and e.tv are up in arms after an audit found the viewership figures provided by the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) in recent years were allegedly inaccurate.
The broadcasters claim this has cost them hundreds of millions of rand in lost advertising revenue.
The SABC and e.tv are backing the planned resignation from Saarf by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), of which both broadcasters are members, as a result of the alleged inaccuracies in reported ratings and because Saarf, they say, does not want to allow greater representation of broadcast media on its board.
According to the two companies, a recent audit of Saarf’s television audience measurement survey (Tams), which provides daily audience ratings for viewership of all broadcasters and on which advertisers base their decisions when it comes to buying advertising, found that the figures it was reporting were inaccurate, and had been for some time.
Saarf conducts media research to determine the levels of media consumption by South Africans. Nielsen Media Research is contracted by Saarf to operate the Tams panel.
Tams consists of a sample panel of TV-watching households that provide daily information on their viewing habits. This information is used to extrapolate the viewing habits of the South African population as a whole.
In a joint statement, the SABC and e.tv say broadcasters called for the audit of the Tams panel after they noticed “serious shortcomings” in the ratings last year.
Both broadcasters say they experienced an “inexplicable fall in ratings” in low- to middle-income households, traditionally the largest consumers of free-to-air TV.
The audit, conducted by French media research and audit firm Centre d’Etudes des Supports de Publicité, found that the Tams panel had “failed to keep up with the evolving South African demographic profile” and had only partially measured certain homes.
It also found that the panel had failed to maintain the household meters used to gather the Tams information and hadn’t balanced various income groups’ weightings appropriately.
Consequently, upper income — often white — households were “over-represented” on the Tams panel, while mid- to low-income households — often black — were “significantly under-represented”.
The broadcasters say this has had a big financial impact on them, with early estimates suggesting the losses could run into hundreds of millions of rand.
“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 that they demand.”
Because Saarf’s constitution requires a year’s notice, NAB’s resignation will only come into effect at the end of 2014. Until then, the broadcasters say they will “act in good faith to ensure the continuity of television research under Saarf while alternatives are being established”.
The broadcasters also want to establish 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”.
Saarf issued its own statement on Thursday, saying it and its members are “extremely disappointed” by the developments and questioning the accuracy of the statements made by SABC and e.tv both around the organisation’s board and the audit findings.
“Saarf wants to state unequivocally that it was not its board that refused the NAB proposal for greater representation of broadcast media”. The organisation says it asked NAB for additional time to consider its request for greater broadcaster representation but the body refused and insisted the matter be put to a vote knowing that it would not pass.
Furthermore, Saarf says it plans to “respond in full to the allegations and inaccurate interpretation of the audit findings” and that claims made by the SABC and e.tv contain “serious inaccuracies”. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media