OUR Q JUMPERS
Popularity poll scores are still controversial, writes Colin Vickery
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.