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Premium services are a tough sell in tough times

Oct 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The faltering economy has taken a toll on the number of new direct broadcast satellite subscribers who are willing to pay for premium services.
That percentage has fallen from 62 percent in 2000 to just 50 percent in 2002, according to Scott Taylor, who heads the Taylor Research & Consulting Group. “It is partly a function of the economy,” Mr. Taylor said, expanding on a presentation about his most recent surveys of DBS and cable subscribers conducted for the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association. He also cited increased competition from cable and home video as factors in the abrupt drop.
Mr. Taylor was one of many researchers who presented papers and gave talks at workshops held in Manhattan recently by the Advertising Research Foundation. The ARF, founded in 1936 by the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, represents more than 400 advertisers, advertising agencies, research firms, media companies and other organizations.
Among the highlights from last week’s ARF workshops:
* Nielsen Media Research reports that through the second quarter 12.5 percent of all national television People Meter panel homes on an average daily basis were not included in the tabulated data because of various “faults,” including such problems as failing to push a meter button, unplugging the metering equipment, adding new sets or viewing equipment without informing Nielsen and failing to maintain telephone or electrical service. The main reason homes in the panel fault is “unidentified tuning,” which occurs when Nielsen can’t identify the network associated with the channel being viewed or when the household receives additional channels but Nielsen hasn’t yet adjusted the channel template to include the new viewing choices.
Typically, Nielsen reduces faulting by sending staff to coach panel homes on how to avoid problems. “Overall, faulting has decreased slightly in the past three years,” said Nielsen’s Daniel Monistere.
* Arbitron, in its latest dispatch from the closely watched Portable People Meter test in Philadelphia, notes that younger demos produce the highest ratings gains with the new device while older demos show the least change with the PPM. That may be partly because older demos are the more conscientious diary keepers, according to a presentation by Arbitron’s Bob Patchen. The presentation also sought to dispel myths about the PPM. Contrary to the belief that women won’t wear the pager-size PPM device, “males and females comply equally well”; and the assumption that use of the PPM declines over time was countered by indications that “panelists do not show a drop-off in carry time as time in panel increases.”
* The PreTesting Co., in a presentation by Lee Weinblatt, analyzed the proliferation of 15-second commercials and of commercial clutter overall, noting that since 1985 the “number of network commercials per week has jumped from 4,075 to 8,175.” PreTesting finds that “general packaged-goods commercial zapping has increased to an average rate of 34 percent” and that for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising it is up to a level of 46 percent. “In terms of just communicating a key message, only one of five :30s [is] successful, with only one of eight :15s reaching this minimum level of performance.”
* Adcom, which specializes in local cable measurement, combines age, gender and other data about every member of every household in its panels with data from set meters that are constantly recording what every television in the household is viewing in any given half-hour.
Adcom follows up with day-after viewing surveys of the panelists that match the household member (or member’s guest) to the particular TV set and the particular program that was viewed. Adcom’s method allows it to account even for late-night periods when everyone in the household has dozed off but a set in the bedroom, say, is still on, or those daytime periods when no one is home but a set has been left on to entertain the family pet.
Adcom finds that “household members can account for persons viewing roughly 98 percent of the time. … About 80 to 85 percent of the viewing is assigned to panel household members only, 3 to 4 percent to guests only, another 2 to 3 percent to household members viewing with guests and between 6 and 12 percent of the tuning remains unassigned; that is, the televisions are tuned but no one is watching.”