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Faking TV ratings

By  Xu Ming (Global Times)

09:51, August 14, 2012

Though the idea of strangers bringing gifts of cooking oil, rice or coupons to bribe families into watching certain programs might sound like an absurd scene out of a TV show, it's a slice from reality.

Sample families are selected by research agencies to track TV shows through audience measurement, a method to indicate the popularity of a program. But problems arise when TV stations attempt to influence the data through various means.

Wang Jianfeng, a producer of Ancestral Temple, wrote on his Sina Weibo early this month that he was approached by a man surnamed Deng. The man, an employee at a Xinjiang-based television research company, promised Wang high ratings in exchange for payment.

Wang said he was offered a two-day free trial. The ratings for Ancestral Temple climbed sharply in the two days, leading him to suspect that the company manipulated the data with CSM Media Research, the only authorized agency measuring audience viewership in China.

Both CSM and Wang reported that they would take the matter to court, starting a national discussion over manipulated TV ratings.

Amid speculation, Deng wrote on his Sina Weibo on Sunday, admitting that while he has gifted sample families, he has never tampered with numbers.

Profit-driven results

Though the case is complicated, Wang's disclosure is not the first. In June, Zhang Yibei, a producer at Hunan Satellite TV claimed that the low ratings for her network over the first six months of 2012 was the result of other TV stations tampering with the ratings.

Manipulating ratings is driven by profit. The ratings for a program refer to the proportion of viewers that watch the program out of an aggregate number. These ratings are used as a way to attract advertisers and increase revenues.

"The price of advertising during a program is decided by its ratings," Yin Hong, a professor at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

Take The Voice of China, a reality-based talent show. Its rating climbed from 1.5 percent to 3.34 percent in the first four episodes. The price of advertising soared from 150,000 yuan ($23,566) to 360,000 yuan every 15 seconds.

As Wang revealed, the company made him believe his show would be one of the top 10 programs nationally, based on audience ratings, as long as he shelled over the money.

As many insiders noted, such transactions have mutual benefits.

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