The People Meter is the measurement device at the heart of the audience measurement system. There are two primary functions that the meter system has to fulfill
- Identify what is being watched.
- Identify who is viewing – which panel members and guests in the home are viewing.
The meter also performs other necessary functions such as:
- Timekeeping – the channel tuning and people registration events need to be logged accurately.
- Data storage – a secure system is needed to hold data within the meter prior to transferring the viewing data to the central computer for processing.
- Data communication – within homes where there is more than one meter, data need to be transferred safely to the main meter.
- Data transfer – from the main meter to the central computer.
Each element of the People Meter is crucial to the accuracy of the overall system.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the People Meter for advertisers is that media buyers will be able to precisely compare the audience reached by a TV schedule with the audience they intend to reach. This is a service, which measures the ratings depending on the way it is compiled and the audience who are asked to measure the ratings.
People meters were initiated in 1995 after a decade of debate, testing and critical appraisal. Initially available through the IMRB and MARG in Mumbai, MARG has now extended it to Delhi.
Previously or in markets where there are only a limited number of broadcasters, with basic programming and limited activity, it is sufficient to gather viewership data by means of interviews or viewing diaries.
Increasing numbers of channels, multiple broadcasting platforms, increased number of TV sets and remote controls per family have lead to a more complex TV environment. Furthermore, the viewer is now faced with the possibility of utilizing the TV screen as a medium for VCR’s, including the option of time shifted viewing or video games,
Within this dynamic environment, people meters have proved themselves capable of measuring audiences with a degree of accuracy and detail, which surpasses previous alternative measurement systems.
People meter are required to measure minute-by-minute TV viewing by the respondents. The process is cumbersome. The interest of the respondent in operating the hardware, the accuracy levels, and achieving representative sample along with the following issues that need addressing:
- The satellite channels by and large are operated by cable operators, who keep changing the channels at will and with a single dish, they keep rotating.
- There is room for extra domestic reception among Indians. People watch TV not only at home, but in other people’s homes, bars, hotels and elsewhere. People meters have to account for such viewing also.
- The definition of viewing also varies. Mechanical viewing to empathetic viewing need to be understood. The other parameter is “in room” vs. “in room and able to watch” to “in room and watching”. Everyone develops ones own way of watching television.
- Accuracy of performance is another critical matter. Surveys in some countries have shown that a few people who had to leave the room to pick up a phone call or answer the door bell pressed their buttons before leaving the room. There is also a likelihood of a delay of one or two minutes between the sets being tuned in and the first individual button being pressed.
- People meters are expensive, hence they limit sample size. When the sample size is small, it obviously cannot be representative of a highly complex and heterogeneous population especially of a metro, and when the small panel is changed the general levels of viewing recorded for a station might change substantially.
People meters are still of better use for programmers, as they need programme ratings within which the exact switching times are of interest, for advertisers need stringent data, which include station reach, station total viewing and share, minute by minute ratings, programme ratings, commercial ratings, continuous analysis over weeks giving reach, frequency and GRP’s for advertising schedules and special analysis for programmes.