The push to bring electronic television audience measurement to the UAE has advanced a step, with the Ministerial Council for Services giving the green light to a plan by the National Media Council to introduce the technology to the local market. The system, called "people meters", uses set-top boxes to note what programmes audiences are watching, providing advertisers and broadcasters with real-time viewership data they can use to plan programming and advertisements.
Advertising buyers and media experts have long complained about the lack of definitive audience data, saying that without such information, spending on television advertising in the UAE will remain low. Talks to bring the technology to the Gulf have been going on for more than a decade, but efforts have stalled over lack of agreement on who will pay for and control the data. People metering has been in use for years in many other countries.
In Singapore, the state-owned MediaCorp, which operates seven free-to-air television channels, has commissioned TNS Global Market Research to run its audience measurements, and then sells the data to other stakeholders. In other markets, an industry committee administers the measurement system. The NMC hired Capgemini Consulting last summer to assess the potential of rolling out people meters in the UAE.
The consultants determined that the UAE's diverse population and cluttered media landscape would require a unique audience measurement system, similar only perhaps to that in Singapore. In Singapore, the boxes are placed in about 750 homes for a population of 4.5 million, a high proportion compared with France's 3,000 boxes for a population of 60 million. With this week's approval, the system inches closer to reality here. Ibrahim al Abed the director general of the NMC, said that a few more meetings would be held this week with stakeholders to smooth out details but that action on the long-awaited project was imminent.
"We are planning to have the project starting soon," he said. "There will be an operator, and we want to make sure that all stakeholders, whether they are TV stations or advertisers or advertising companies, to be involved in it. Our purpose is to have, like other countries, people meters that will give accurate data about the preferences of the audience." The project will be paid for by stakeholders, and the NMC already has a commitment for between 70 and 80 per cent of the cost of the project, Mr al Abed said.