Saudi launches TV measurement, by Nielsen’s Sarah Messer

The TAM project heralds a new era for TV and video advertising and programming in the kingdom, writes Sarah Messer, managing director, Nielsen Media MENAP.

The television market in KSA has long been the giant of the MENA media landscape. With a population of just under 35 million people, it is the largest viewing audience in the GCC and a country of self-confessed content lovers. Not only is the population large, but the youth of the population (two-thirds of the Saudi population is under 35) makes it an extremely commercially attractive audience to reach. KSA is a critical market for advertisers and a key focus for both campaign buys and creative execution.

Media agencies and media owners have joined their voices with advertisers to call for more accountable, transparent, industry-led partnerships and initiatives to drive growth, leading to the formation of the Media Rating Company (MRC). Driven by the goals of Vision 2030 and a call from the industry for greater transparency and accountability, the MRC has announced the launch of Television Audience Measurement (TAM) in KSA in 2022, as Phase I of its initiatives. Nielsen is the data supplier chosen to partner with the MRC.

Recent years have brought both challenges and opportunities across the media landscape globally. With the rise of new platforms and technology, audiences have continued to fragment and the need to measure them, wherever they are consuming content, has become ever more important. This is as true in KSA as it is anywhere.

“Media budgets in all industries and in all markets have always been under pressure,” says Abdullah Alotaibi, head of corporate communications and PR at Saudi-based dairy giant Almarai. “With today’s connected world, audiences are more fragmented than ever. This adds to the pressure on marketers and communication specialists to optimise their budgets. To do so they need the right tools”.

The MRC has been established to provide the media industry with robust, high-quality, gold-standard measurement data, consequently contributing to growth opportunities for all stakeholders involved, as we know from international market experience. The MRC is licensed by the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM).

Bandar Al Mashhadi has been appointed as CEO of the newly established MRC. “I have a fundamental responsibility to listen and act on industry needs,” he says. “The MRC’s projects and initiatives will reflect back to the industry what they tell us they want, how they want to plan and buy media and how they want to understand content consumption, platforms and audiences.”

To keep listening to and reflecting back industry needs, the MRC requires strong industry governance. This is done through the Industry Board, led by GCAM and made up of the most senior, influential leaders from media agencies, advertisers and broadcasters in the region.

All the key players are represented; every organisational type has a voice and is invited to share in the collaboration, led by the MRC in order to bring to the industry a TAM system that is built to reflect their needs.

Al Mashhadi says: “All key organisations should have a voice, from media owners to advertisers to media agencies. The Industry Board plays a key role in how the MRC plans our projects, advising and consulting on initiatives and activities to ensure fair decision-making and transparency.”

As the MRC develops and builds its projects, the executional decisions that drive the eventual data outputs are made by the end-users. Today, the Industry Board and the MRC are supported by a Technical Committee, made up of the most experienced research and analytical minds from across the local media landscape. This smart team is engaged and active weekly, advising both the Board and the MRC on methodology and outcomes.

“As an agency, we are very excited to contribute to the success of the KSA TAM,” says Shadi Kandil, CEO of Mediabrands. “We are gearing up to upskill our teams to deal with the advanced nature of the data that will flow from the KSA TAM project, as we move from active to passive measurement and reporting on a per-minute basis. This provides us with unlimited opportunities to optimise campaign plans and derive higher efficiencies that will eventually drive better business results. This puts the spotlight on advanced skills in delivering efficiencies and not just relying on commercial muscles to achieve targets.”

Kandil continues: “The importance of the KSA TAM is that it comes at a momentous time. The fact that it has the full support of the industry stakeholders, representing the media, the agencies and the advertisers, with the solid backing of the Saudi government, lends credibility and endorsement to the findings. This is crucial, as trust is a key factor in making use of the findings to make informed business and future investment decisions. The argument is not just about the health of the advertising industry but also the economy at large – as advertising expenditure is known to be a key contributor to GDP across the globe. Here in this region, we have long suffered from low per-capita advertising spend. It is our hope that the KSA TAM will act as a key lever to bring back confidence in measurement and accountability of advertising investments in driving business growth.”

MRC has commissioned Nielsen Media to build the TAM service for Saudi Arabia. In its first phase, this service will bring robust, high-quality measurement of all linear TV viewing, all TV content streamed through a TV set, and census measurement of TV content viewed through linear and digital content providers, apps and players. It will be the first time audiences from these three sources will be combined to provide a holistic understanding of total audience engagement with TV content. In phase II, the service will broaden out to include individual mapping of personal devices and wider video measurement, allowing for cross-platform video measurement and generation of unduplicated reach and frequency

Nielsen Media KSA, a newly formed business entity in the kingdom, is well into the build-out for this project. The full KSA panel will be 2,000 homes representatively covering 24 cities across Saudi. There will be a beta launch of data from the first installed homes by Ramadan 2022, with the full panel ready by July 2022.

MRC has been driving communication with the Industry Board and involving the TechCom regularly in the decisions and progress of this exciting project for several months now and will continue to do so. The education of the wider industry about how to use this data to drive their own businesses is in process.

“In the past 30 years there have been several attempts to implement a measurement system that provides a truly representative account of the viewing habits of the residents of Saudi Arabia, says Kandil. “The upside of this long wait is that with the KSA TAM we are getting an advanced measurement solution that utilises state-of-the-art technology in data capturing and follows stringent best-in-class practices in collecting, reporting and auditing the measurement process”.

“TAM will provide a layer of viewership patterns which will impact how we plan and invest in TV. With the sizeable investments into TV, this will allow us to tap into other potential variables, which in turn will unlock opportunities to optimise TV spend”, says Alotaibi. “TAM should remove bias and automate end-to-end measurement. It will bring in more reliable data, which is important for both advertisers and broadcasters. Such quality data will help broadcasters to up their game in content production and will provide advertisers a better ROI.”