24 October 2011

Not the target market

Over the past week I've been participating in a Roy Morgan TV and radio poll, filling out a booklet filled with innumerable tick-boxes to illustrate my media habits. When the polling company asked if I wanted to participate I weighed up the faff of actually setting down my media consumption in a detailed fashion against the desire to boost the few decent programmes and channels there are in New Zealand, and came down in favour of the latter.

So since last Sunday I've been keeping a careful record of everything I've listened to or watched, in half-hour allotments. This actually proved far easier than expected, because despite temporarily having access to plenty of pay TV channels through the Telstra cable connection in my current flat, I actually watch very little TV, and the radio listening I do is fairly predictable: Morning Report, a bit of Nights with Brian Crump and Kim Hill on Saturday morning, all on Radio New Zealand.

In addition to signalling my devotion to the high standards of radio broadcasting on Radio New Zealand, I was also keen to highlight my fondness for programmes on the commercial-free public service channel TVNZ7, which is threatened with closure in 2012. However, the format of the survey made it difficult to do the latter. There are dozens of channels on pay TV, and many of them aren't assigned their own individual column of tick-boxes in Roy Morgan's poll - instead, they're all lumped together under the catch-all phrase, 'Other pay TV' - which is a misnomer in TVNZ7's case, because it's not pay TV, it's free-to-air. I was able to flag my approval of TVNZ7 elsewhere in response to a query asking what channels I regularly watched and liked, but I would have preferred to make this point directly.

I should acknowledge that my viewing preferences mark me out as someone who is not likely to be hunted down and actively courted by advertisers, which is the real purpose of the Roy Morgan poll. Sure, I spend money on books, music and DVDs, but I spend a large part of what little time I do devote to consuming TV and radio locked into channels with no advertising. In pollsters' terms, I am an un-person.

Still, filling out the media diary was a worthwhile exercise, if only because it confirmed my suspicions that New Zealand TV offers little of real merit these days, or at least it offers little that interests me. In one section of the media diary the pollsters listed TV programmes organised by their channels, and asked for audience attitudes to each programme. The only options provided were:
  • I especially choose to watch it
  • I watch it only because someone in the household wishes to
  • I watch it if there's nothing better
  • I really love this programme     
I'd make three observations about this particular exercise.

From the lists for TV1 and TV2 programmes I could find only a single show that I could actually bear the thought of watching - the BBC's sitcom Miranda. Aside from that it was wall-to-wall pointless tat, which illustrates how irrelevant TVNZ's two main channels are to me and presumably people like me. In fact, it's been so long since I've regularly watched programmes on TV1 or TV2 that my default assumption is that if a programme features on those channels, it must be dire. Perhaps I miss out on a few good choices that slip through the pack of stinkers that make up TVNZ's schedules, but given how bad much of TVNZ's material is, it's a risk I'm happy to run.

TV3 and Four seem to have collared the handful of American programmes that I actually enjoy: animated comedies like King of the Hill, The Simpsons and Futurama, and witty live comedies like 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation.  And there are a smattering of quality British programmes like the Graham Norton Show, QI and Top Gear on those channels and Prime. But the distinctive feature of the listings is the huge swathe of American programming that dominates all the free-to-air channels. Of the limited range of New Zealand-made programming, much of it is the ultra-low-budget reality schlock. Is it any wonder that young New Zealanders are growing up knowing less and less about their own country and their own stories?

Lastly, the list of four tick-boxes above contained no option for 'I'd never watch this rubbish and I would actively avoid the products and services of any advertiser associated with it'. This is so often a factor when watching commercial-laden TV in New Zealand, when even good programmes can be mangled beyond recognition by enormous quantities of braying adverts. Wouldn't you love to be able to tell TV programmers (and their associated ad company puppet-masters) when their offerings are lousy?

So clearly I'm not the ideal survey recipient, from Roy Morgan's perspective. But having completed their weekly survey, which includes a gigantic consumer poll covering a multitude of marketplaces such as travel, telecommunications, supermarket shopping, electricity, motoring and many others, I have to wonder if the consumer intelligence that Roy Morgan is selling is really worth what its customers pay for it. Because I've completed most of their rather thick booklets due to a sense of intellectual curiosity, but it was particularly time-consuming and I can't imagine most people offering up that much of their own time for no reward. (There's a prize draw for a small cash sum, but the chances of winning are low).

As an example, the most ridiculous exercise in the consumer poll booklet is a page devoted to attitudes towards supermarket chains, asking 'which, if any, of the following statements do you associate with each supermarket?'  For each of the ten supermarket chains listed there are *fifty-eight* tick-boxes, making a grand total of 580 tick-boxes on one page. Statements put to the reader include 'They have spacious aisles' and 'trolleys and baskets are always available'. Needless to say, I gave this page a miss. Who actually fills that sort of nonsense out, and who makes business decisions based on the information derived from it?
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