REPRESENTATIVES of Slovakia's television stations and advertising agencies have put to rest disputes over viewer monitoring and signed on to state-run Slovak Television's (STV) plan to use electronic "people-meters" to gauge television ratings.
On February 11 the private TA3, Joj, and Markíza television stations, the Association of Media Advertising Agencies, and STV agreed to use the devices to create a single system for measuring the number of television viewers, to be run by the market-research agency Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS).
People-meters are gadgets that plug into regular television sets and transmit data to market researchers on what programmes are being watched. Data gathered from a representative sample of a given population are then used to compile viewer ratings, which influence programming and advertising decisions.
Because the meters offer much more precise information than the diary system - whereby individual viewers make a note of what they watch - used in Slovakia until now, backers say people-meters will improve the overall quality of the country's television broadcasts.
"TV stations will orient themselves towards more distinct target groups, which will help increase the flexibility of their activities. People-meters will also have a direct influence on the expansion of the television advertising market, where we expect to see investments grow," said Katarína Rimóczyová, director of the programme analysis section at TV Markíza.
The agreement comes after months of disputes between Slovak broadcasters gave rise to fears that there would be more than one electronic survey done by different groups of stations, continuing the current split in media market research.
Some television insiders say that foot-dragging at Markíza, the country's most popular station, has held the process up. In other countries, they note, the introduction of people-meters has meant lower reported viewer figures for dominant stations than they had received under diary systems.
"After the introduction of people-meters, the market share of leading TV stations always decreases. It has so far always been true and there is no reason to believe that it will be otherwise in Slovakia," said Ľudovít Tóth, spokesperson for TV Joj.
Tóth says he is looking forward to seeing people-meter results, as television market research is currently carried out by Markíza and STV themselves.
Markíza representatives, however, say they are confident the new reporting system will not affect their top position in the Slovak television market.
"The impact of the change on the market share of stations should be minimal. We expect that Markíza will keep its dominant position," said Rimóczyová.
While Slovakia's smallest stations - the TA3 cable news channel and the terrestrial TV Joj - stand to gain the most from the new people-meters, it was primarily the initiative of advertisers that brought all the stations to accord.
According to Tóth, market data developed under the diary system is often incomplete and inaccurate, and errors can lead to huge differences in viewing figures.
"Results from the [two] diary systems are sometimes very different. During the [May 2002] ice-hockey world championships [in which Slovakia won gold], the difference in results was a million viewers.
"The advertisers wanted to prevent this and so they put pressure on the TV stations to agree on a common electronic survey," said Tóth.
The people-meter system will offer much faster results and be more objective, though its level of precision might be difficult to measure, said TNS boss Ivan Šimek.
"There is no one figure that will be able to tell us the [exact number of viewers], but measurements will be much more precise than they are now because it's possible to measure second-by-second and minute-by-minute ratings," said Šimek.
"A further advantage is that data can be delivered on a daily basis, or even several times a day, which makes it possible for clients to react more quickly to given situations," he said.
Experts say it will not be hard to find households willing to participate in the people-meter project.
"The Czech experience shows that most respondents realise they are setting a standard by their behaviour," said Tóth adding that the project can help develop, or destroy, original Slovak television production.
"The more people watch high-quality original productions, the harder all commercial TV stations will try to include it in their broadcasting. But as long as viewers prefer Latin American soap operas or Oscar movies, [stations] will naturally try to satisfy that demand," he said.
24. Feb 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila