One of the hottest topics in Italian media market is the reform of Auditel.
Auditel is the research company which carries out the television audience measurement in Italy. It was created because of an agreement stipulated in mid-‘80s between Silvio Berlusconi, owner of Mediaset (the main private network) and Biagio Agnes, then Managing Director of RAI (the public television, such as BBC in UK).
Auditel corresponds to the so-called "Joint Industry Committee" scheme. That is, Auditel is a private company (operating through a Board of Directors and a Technical Committee) formed by representatives from the TV stations, media buyers and advertisers.
However, according to some, Auditel’s Board of Directors, which takes the key decisions, does not properly represent all current TV interests. Critics of Auditel say that Sky, the only one satellite platform in Italy (owned by the Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp) with more than 3,600,000 subscribers, is not represented in Auditel: Auditel’s Board of Directors does not include any representation of satellite or cable channels interests.
In fact, the Board of Directors represents only Auditel’s main shareholders: the 66% collective shareholding by media owners is divided between RAI (33%), Mediaset (27%), Telecom and an association of local TV stations (combined 6%). The other 34% is split between UPA, the national advertisers association (20%), media buyers through the three national associations for advertising and media centres (13%), and FIEG (1%), the national trade association for the publishers.
Furthermore, satellite channels hold only one representative post on the 18 person Technical Committee.
Therefore, RAI and Mediaset, the two analogue terrestrial television incumbents, each one with three channels, have corporate control of Auditel with a combined 60% shareholding.
From 2002 Auditel began measuring the aggregate audience of satellite both free and pay-tv channels.
In 2004, Auditel started an experimental measurement of individual satellite channel viewing data.
Sitcom’s Action Against Auditel
In May 2005, Sitcom (a company editing 4 thematic satellite channels included in the Sky’s bouquet) made a claim to the Court of Appeals in Milan requesting that publication of all Auditel data be forbidden based on fact that viewing data was being misrepresented by Auditel. Sitcom asked interim relief to be granted, pending the proceedings on the merits, in the form of an order preventing Auditel from publishing the viewership data.
Sitcom partly succeeded in its civil litigation against Auditel, since the judge – in an interim decision - prevented publication of all individual satellite channel data until completion by AGCOM (the Italian Communications Independent Authority, such as OFCOM in UK or FCC in USA) of a review of Auditel and the way the same works. The judge, however, did not prevent the publication of terrestrial channels viewing data.
Sitcom also filed a complaint with the Italian Antitrust Authority for abuse of dominant position.
The AGCOM’s Guidelines for the Auditel Reform
On May 16, 2006 AGCOM adopted its first decision on television (but also radio and press) audience measurement.
This decision contains the guidelines for the Auditel reform.
AGCOM deems the present system of television audience measurement inadequate in respect of market requirements. AGCOM indicated the following changes to improve television audience measurement:
- the corporate structures (including shares ownership and directors) must represent all existing TV markets (digital terrestrial television – DTT, satellite, cable);
- the technical committee must be independent. AGCOM may decide to designate its own representative members in this committee;
Methodological rules on measurement
- the meters (measurement device) must be able to operate on every platforms; the audience panel must reflect the rate of penetration of the several platforms;
- the frequency of the audience panel rotation and the margin of statistically acceptable error must take into account the differences among platforms;
Transparency and communications to AGCOM:
Auditel must communicate to AGCOM:
- corporate and shareholders’ data;
- data on methodology, viewers panel, audience measurement system, rate of wrong for each category, measurement period, costs the broadcasters must bear to access to the audience data, etc;
- data on entities controlling Auditel.
These data, including the website where the document on the aggregate measurement methodology is available, will be published on AGCOM website.
The communications above shall be given (a) immediately after the AGCOM’s decision, within 60 days, and (b) then, within 60 days from the event triggering a duty of communication. In any event, every year, on December 31, a statement containing this information must be transmitted to AGCOM.
AGCOM entered into an agreement with ISTAT (the National Institute of Statistics) to certify the audience research quality and the audience data correctness.
AGCOM, besides, may decide to arrange directly for audience measurement in case of failure to correctly adopt the guidelines and if subsequent monitoring by AGCOM should reveal that the viewers’ panel is not adequate.
And Now? The Chapter is not Closed
After this AGCOM’s decision, one may deem that the interim order of the Court of Appeals in Milan is no longer effective.
Some satellite channels requested the publication of their viewers share, showing confidence that Auditel’s viewership data, albeit admittedly possibly underestimated, is very good and complaining about the prohibition to show such data to the market and to advertising buyers.
However, Auditel is not sure of this and deems that it is prevented by the publication of satellite audience data. It is matter for the Italian media lawyers again.
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