Many commentators on the topic would have chosen to talk about the substance and process of the interview and offered their critique of the television event du jour in terms of what it says about the state of India’s Politics with particular reference to the Elections for the 16th Lok Sabha. I am no political commentator and am unlikely to find a tack or spin interesting enough to keep you reading for the next 800 or odd words.
I do have other interests. Television is one. Social Media is another. Both have been on fire after the big Times Now interview featuring Narendra Modi and Arnab Goswami last night. I have therefore chosen to discuss a topic that lies at the crossroads of all of these.
Let’s get straight to the nub. Take a look at the trends map from www.trendsmap.com for the hashtag #modispeakstoarnab.
From UAE in the West to Singapore in the East, the interview continues to trend a good fourteen hours after Arnab said his Thank-Yous. What can this tell us about television audience behaviour and its measurement?
1. For starters, the impact of programming does not end with the show. For hours after the curtains come down, viewers are still reviewing, digesting and absorbing the content.
2. Indeed, this process of absorption being active and not passive is also a stage where word-of-mouth, physical and digital, is also when new audiences are persuaded to sample the show. Good word-of-mouth appeal has a new name: Virality.
3. Sheer volume of viewing does not constitute a high-fidelity picture of the audience. No picture is complete until we gauge the involvement and engagement with the show.
4. Social media deployed intelligently add heft to every stage of the show life cycle. Times Now floated the hashtag #modispeakstoarnab a few days before the event. This was accompanied by a mass and digital media campaign to promote the event and cuing the hashtag. Soon enough it was popping up on Twitter and Facebook timelines, as people voluntarily became Times Now’s marketing assets. This cascade of communications was steadily winning more viewers for the show, days before it actually aired.
5. Unlike Peoplemeter measurements, all measures that emerge from the social media are emergent and not purposive. Each individual who posts or consumes a post connected with a particular topic is, for the largest majority of users, doing so voluntarily. This is not to suggest that market participants will not try to nudge this passing of the parcel.
Audience measurement systems are perpetually under attack. In India, we have been witnesses to a particularly damaging assault on a major measurement currency in the last few months. It therefore behooves measurement professionals to constantly seek ideas for upping their game to strengthen their offerings.
Each of the issues highlighted above hint at ways by which future television measurement systems might benefit.
1. We have been speaking about time-shifted and device-shifted television content consumption for quite a while and the audio-encoding based proposition being rolled out by BARC is designed to achieve this in the near future. However, social media offer an opportunity to measure content consumption, particularly on mobile devices, today itself.
2. Application developers have produced apps that are able to make reasoned assessments of whether a particular social message is positive/negative or favourable/unfavourable. Their logic algorithms keep improving and false positives / false negatives dip. This enables us not only to measure volume of impact but also direction of emotional response. This can serve, to an extent, as a likeability thermometer for the content.
3. While measures of audience volume will rightly come from the Peoplemeter panel, it is poorly placed to pick up involvement and engagement. The degree to which a show or piece of content is shared and commented upon in the social media, however, stands as a very useful surrogate for this. The more virality a show triggers, the higher engagement it is generating.
4. Panels measure only representative markets. However, social media offer an opportunity of estimating audience sizes by using a regression model. If it is possible to model the relationship between audience measures and some aspects of social media measures, the model can then be used to extrapolate ‘ratings’ in non-rated geographies.
5. Social media measures, being emergent than bespoke, offer anyone the ability to validate their veracity and do not distort or change any behavior related to viewing.
6. Social media measures can serve as a reality check on panel numbers. Intuitively, more viewed shows ought to have a larger social media footprint and vice versa. With time, such datasets will become large enough to make reasonable assessments of even small demographic or geographic population slices.
Notwithstanding who is the winner or loser on May 16th , May 8th , 2014 ought to have given measurement professionals a few things to think about.
The author is an independent media and communication consultant.