Media Buying & Planning; Demand For Viewer Data Going Up; Media Buyers Act More On Gut than Fact

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Media buyers in Eastern Europe are witnessing rapid changes, sparked by the advent of commercial TV to regions that formerly had only government channels. More channels with better programming and more sophisticated booking services translate into vast opportunities for targeted marketing.

But who's watching what, marketers ask.

Unfortunately, the answer is unclear. Market development is swift and difficult to predict. And, in the absence of reliable people-meter data, often the most useful resources for media buyers are instinct, skill and a bit of luck.

"I go with my instincts," said Gavin Duke, director of Mediacom for the Czech Republic and Hungary. Media data are "always one to five months out of date," he said, which "is like using a rearview mirror to drive."

Tim Scott Hunter, managing director of Interpublic's new media-buying group Initiative Media, Hungary, concurs. "Research companies have to switch from fourth gear into overdrive," he said. But, to date, the development of research to evaluate media has lagged, even as multinationals and advertising agencies rush into Europe's emerging markets.

ANSWERS ARE COMING

Help is on the way. U.S.-based Gallup International, the U.K.'s Taylor Nelson AGB, France's Mediametrie and the Dutch TAM group (which operates AGB Italia and AGB Hungary) are setting up systems to answer growing demand for regional viewer data.

Although Hungary was among the last in the region to introduce commercial TV, it was the first to have a people-meter rating system. AGB Hungary installed people meters in November 1993. And, after years of delay, a contract to establish Taylor Nelson AGB Peoplemeters in the Czech Republic was signed in May.

Taylor Nelson AGB is also developing a system for Poland under a license with the Public Opinion Research Center, which is owned by the public broadcaster, Polish Television. Gallup and Mediametrie are currently testing people meters in Sofia.

But useful data may still be a while in coming. Even Hungary's established data system lacks the sophistication to pinpoint the niche markets advertisers are now targeting. AGB Hungary, which now offers only programming information, is gearing up to provide second-by-second viewer information on advertising spots. In other countries, competition among people-meter operators is creating problems for media buyers.

CONFUSION POSSIBLE

More than one people-meter operation per country causes confusion, said Adam Swann, regional media director for Ogilvy & Mather. In spite of this, PolSat, a private Polish TV station, is considering a venture with AGB Italia to compete with Taylor Nelson.

`GROWING LIKE MUSHROOMS'

And in Russia, small people-metering systems are "growing like mushrooms," according to Mike Kirkham, London-based director of Taylor Nelson AGB. His firm may install people meters in Russia, working with a leading research firm, such as ComCon2 or Russian Research. But he is concerned about competition.

Obtaining reliable information means developing a representative sample, which is not easy in Russia. A recent report in a Russian newsletter, Media Developments, cited Vladimir Schipkov, media director of ComCon2: "If we want to survey separately all 150 [TV] markets [in Russia], in order for these numbers to make any sense we'll need samples of at least 500 people in each. This means a survey by region of 75,000 people. This is not realistic, and our market cannot afford it."

Maria Bjork, the media planner for Procter & Gamble Russia, countered that, "There are different data .... and we don't know how reliable [they] are." Procter & Gamble is Russia's biggest TV advertiser, so "it is really important for us that we know what we get for this money," she added.

AGB Hungary is facing a similar problem in monitoring Hungary's burgeoning

cable TV market. In some areas, most households have cable; in others, the

lack of infrastructure prevents cable from making major inroads. Cable's

fragmented coverage makes it cost-prohibitive to use the diary system, said

Csilla Voros, managing director of AGB Hungary. But marketers are yelling

for information, saying cable already offers a genuine advertising

opportunity.

People meters reportedly are bringing stability to the region's media

market. Before people meters were introduced in Hungary, said Initiative's

Mr. Hunter, "Television decision-making was not based on a great deal of

professional awareness of what is a good buy, what is not a good buy." But

people meters have introduced a "real [media] currency into the

marketplace," he said.

Many media buyers in Eastern Europe agree that things are looking up,

thanks to the introduction of commercial TV. Costs-per-thousand remain lower

than those in Western Europe, and selling practices are becoming more

transparent, with fewer instances of good deals based solely on friendship.

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