Pop­u­lar­ity poll scores are still con­tro­ver­sial, writes Colin Vick­ery

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WHEN an an­gry Ed­die McGuire tore through the Colling­wood play­ers af­ter the Heath Shaw/Alan Di­dak drink­ing binge and car ac­ci­dent last month, he used a TV au­di­ence mea­sure, the Q Scores, to un­der­line the sac­ri­fices he had made for the club.

‘‘I had the high­est Q Score in Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion the week be­fore I be­came Colling­wood pres­i­dent and a year later I had the low­est,’’ he says. ‘‘I be­came the Colling­wood bloke.’’

The Q Scores, brain­child of TV re­searcher David Cas­tran, were launched in 2001 as an ad­junct to the OzTAM and AC Nielsen TV rat­ings, and they have been gain­ing wide­spread me­dia at­ten­tion since.

They are de­signed to mea­sure two main ar­eas — the pop­u­lar­ity of in­di­vid­ual per­form­ers and au­di­ence in­volve­ment in par­tic­u­lar shows.

Cas­tran of­fers the highly se­cret re­search, for a price, to the ma­jor net­works and key ad­ver­tis­ers.

‘‘Un­til now, all we’ve known is who is watch­ing,’’ Cas­tran said when Q Scores was launched. ‘‘Q Scores tells you why.’’

Seven years later, the Q Scores sys­tem isn’t without its crit­ics and there are con­flict­ing views about its value among the net­works (not all have signed up for the in­for­ma­tion). Ten, for ex­am­ple, prefers in-house re­search.

‘‘Star qual­ity and au­di­ence ap­peal is mea­sured on many other fac­tors, in­clud­ing rat­ings,’’ a Nine Net­work spokes­woman said when dis­miss­ing Q Scores in June.

A Chan­nel 7 in­sider coun­tered: ‘‘Don’t ever let any­one tell you TV ex­ec­u­tives don’t take no­tice of Q Scores.’’

Cas­tran and his Q Scores gain most of their me­dia at­ten­tion with the twice-yearly Per­son­al­ity Rank­ings — a sys­tem rat­ing the au­di­ence ap­peal of all the main stars. Each April and Oc­to­ber, 2000 peo­ple are polled to mea­sure the recog­ni­tion and pop­u­lar­ity of more than 600 celebri­ties.

The re­sults show whether peo­ple have a pos­i­tive, neu­tral or neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to par­tic­u­lar stars and whether they like a star so much that any pro­gram they are in would be must-watch.

Pro­gram­mers can use the re­sults to pick the most pop­u­lar stars when cast­ing a se­ries or se­lect­ing a host for a forth­com­ing show. Ad­ver­tis­ers can do the same when they’re pick­ing a star for a new ad­ver­tise­ment (think Jen­nifer Hawkins for Myer).

The in­for­ma­tion is se­cret — for net­works’ and ad­ver­tis­ers’ eyes only — but leaks emerge. In June it was re­vealed Sun­rise’s David Koch had a Q Score of 14 (a drop from 27 two years be­fore) and Melissa Doyle 12, and that To­day’s Karl Ste­fanovic and Lisa Wilkin­son scored six and five re­spec­tively. Richard Wilkins had four and Cameron Wil­liams two. A score of 10 or above is deemed high, with three a low score and six about av­er­age.

The most re­cent rank­ings are re­ported to show ra­dio star Hamish Blake’s Q Score is the high­est in the coun­try.

Com­plete per­son­al­ity rank­ings from the end of 2007, ob­tained by the Her­ald Sun, show the sys­tem isn’t fool­proof.

Hugh Jack­man (with a Q Score of 35) is the top-ranked star for recog­ni­tion and must-watch fac­tor, fol­lowed by An­drew Den­ton (30), Jen­nifer Hawkins (29), Ernie Dingo (27), Dave Hughes (23), Magda Szuban­ski (23), Glenn Rob­bins (22), Hamish Blake (21), John Clarke (21) and Shane Bourne (20).

Other top-ranked celebri­ties in­clude Michael Ca­ton (19), Si­grid Thorn­ton (19), John Wood (19), Re­becca Gib­ney (18), Jamie Durie (17), Adam Hills (17) and Lisa McCune (17). Sur­pris­ingly, stars in­clud­ing Ed­die McGuire and Kyle Sandi­lands don’t make the Top 100.

Since then Jack­man has flopped with Viva Laugh­lin, Rob­bins strug­gled for rat­ings with Out of the Ques­tion and Hawkins hasn’t set the world on fire with Make Me a Su­per­model.

If Szuban­ski was such a must­watch star, some­one for­got to tell view­ers when she hosted rat­ings dis­as­ter Magda’s Funny Bits.

Hamish and Andy are ra­dio kings but have strug­gled to trans­late that to tele­vi­sion. Ca­ton and Gib­ney, how­ever, were cast in Packed to the Rafters, which is 2008’s big­gest hit, and Bourne is big in City Homi­cide and Thank God You’re Here.

‘‘What comes first, the for­mat or the host?’’ a net­work in­sider won­ders, not­ing it is the for­mat of shows such as Danc­ing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and Aus­tralian Idol that make them hits rather than the star ap­peal of the hosts.

‘‘If a for­mat is strong, it’s of­ten bet­ter to pick a neu­tral host (Daniel MacPher­son, Natalie Bassing- thwaighte, An­drew G and James Mathi­son) rather than one who di­vides the au­di­ence (such as An­drew O’Keefe).’’

Packed to the Rafters se­ries cre­ator Be­van Lee sees the Q Scores as a use­ful tool, but not in­fal­li­ble.

‘‘It’s a com­bi­na­tion of Q and in­stinct,’’ he says of the cast­ing process. ‘‘We’ve all seen peo­ple with high Qs get the wrong role.’’

Cas­tran says: ‘‘It (a Q Score) doesn’t ex­plain how a great pre­sen­ter can be part of a show that fails mis­er­ably. It sug­gests it’s more than just the per­son­al­ity.’’

Cas­tran also ac­knowl­edges Q Scores can of­ten repli­cate the rat­ings.

‘‘Ev­ery pre­sen­ter rises and falls to the show,’’ he says. ‘‘When Kath & Kim was on air, Jane Turner, Gina Ri­ley, Magda Szuban­ski and Peter Row­sthorn all went up. They’re go­ing down at the mo­ment as Kath & Kim drifts and we wait for a pos­si­ble next se­ries.’’

Cas­tran’s sec­ond Q Score mea­sure, which rates must-watch shows, is also con­tro­ver­sial. About 22,000 in­ter­views are done ev­ery year— he says sam­ples are bal­anced for age, gen­der, ge­o­graphic dis­tri­bu­tion, so­cio/oc­cu­pa­tion and sub­scrip­tion-TV sta­tus within each mar­ket.

Peo­ple are asked whether they have watched a pro­gram in the past four weeks. Those who have are asked about their en­gage­ment with the pro­gram, mea­sured on a four­point scale (four be­ing the high­est).

MARK McCraith, manag­ing part­ner of me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany Mind­Share, says he has com­plete faith in the sys­tem and that it pro­vides valu­able in­for­ma­tion for ad­ver­tis­ers.

‘‘Must-watch equals want­ing to view more and be­ing highly at­ten­tive — and that equals more cut­through for our ad­ver­tis­ing which means more brand aware­ness and the abil­ity to drive sales,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for the younger de­mo­graph­ics be­cause their TV view­ing has changed so much.’’

Crit­ics ar­gue the re­sults skew to­wards cult shows such as The So­pra­nos and The West Wing, which have small but ra­bid fan bases, and that the method­ol­ogy is sim­plis­tic be­cause it is easy for peo­ple to fib about what they’ve watched — a prob­lem un­der the old di­ary TVrat­ings sys­tem.

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