Measuring the Fragmenting Television Audience1

Mike Kirkham
Taylor Nelson AGB PLC

INTRODUCTION

In the UK we have one of the largest people meter panels in the world for measuring television audiences; it consists of approximately 4,700 households and has been this size since 1991. In many other countries people meter panel sizes are being increased: Nielsen is going to 5,000 households in the United States; last year in Germany the panel was increased to 4,760 households and recently we have seen decisions in Italy, Belgium and elsewhere to make substantial increases in their people meter panel sizes.

In one way these decisions are understandable; they come partly in response to the increasing fragmentation of the television medium. Throughout the world more and more channels are being provided for viewers, we are on the verge of digital television which is going to bring an enormous further growth in channel availability. Fragmentation means that individual ratings levels – for programmes, for advertising breaks and for individual commercials are all declining and they will decline further. This can be illustrated in a very simple way; in the UK the two largest channels are BBC 1 and ITV which together account for 70% of the total television audience. Figure 1 goes back to 1985 and compares programme ratings on these two channels with the position 10 years later in 1995.