People meters, the set-top boxes that have been the primary method of measuring the number of television viewers in developed media markets for more than two decades, are finally coming to the UAE. Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns The National, announced plans yesterday to fund and lead the implementation of people meters in the country by the end of the year. "Abu Dhabi Media Company is going to go ahead with the implementation of a people meter initiative for the UAE," said Karim Sarkis, the executive director of broadcast for ADMC. "We are inviting as members of a steering committee for this project Dubai Media, one representative from the agencies in the UAE - which could be on a rotating basis - and the National Media Council, which could be in an oversight role."
The Gulf media industry has long bemoaned the absence of people meters. At the moment, audience figures are gathered by telephone calls that ask viewers to recall the programmes they watched. People meters gather data electronically in real time, and send the information back to a data centre that makes it available within a day. Many in the industry believe that, armed with more accurate data collected with people meters, advertisers would feel more confident about their investments. This would allow broadcasters to raise the price of advertisements, which would result in greater revenues and ultimately higher production values for television.
There have been many efforts to bring people meters to the region, particularly to Saudi Arabia, the region's biggest market, but so far none has succeeded. Earlier this year, the National Media Council put out a request for proposals from consultants and research companies on how best to implement people meters in the country. But Mr Sarkis believes this step is unnecessary, given the wide use of the technology in most of the world's developed markets.
"What we don't want to happen is to go through a lengthy process like what happened in Saudi, which will be gridlocked by various factors, whether valid or not," he said. "So in the interest of acting as a catalyst for trusted audience measurement in the UAE using established technologies, we are going ahead with it." ADMC is in negotiations with an international provider of people-metering services, he said. Once the steering committee is formed, it will hire an international auditor to ensure transparency and then, if appropriate, sign a contract with the provider.
ADMC is prepared to fund the US$2 million (DH7.3m) to $3 million required for the initial establishment survey, manufacturing, distribution and other start-up costs, but hopes that, once the data are available, by December, other stakeholders will decide to subscribe to the service and help shoulder the cost. "This is not a business venture," Mr Sarkis said. "This is purely something that we would like to do so that we can advance the media sector in the UAE."