Numbers Do Not Matter On Television

Ever wondered why certain shows that are just horrible on South African television get to stay on air for years? The answer to that is very simple. When it comes to television and selling advertising, it is not how many people are watching but rather who is watching. This is why shows that are under-performing in terms of ratings still receive airtime on local channels. 


The bain of the industry's existence has to be the LSM (Living Standards Measure) system. Developed by the South African Advertising and Research Foundation (SAARF), LSM has become the most widely used segmentation tool in South Africa.

It is a means of segmenting the South African market that cuts across race, gender, age or any other variable used to categorise people. BUT is instead grouping people according to their living standards.

LSMs are calculated based on ownership of household assets and a few other requirements. There are 29 variables some of which are whether you have hot running water, a Fridge/freezer or Microwave oven. 

They also look into whether you use a vacuum cleaner, have a built in kitchen sink or a flushing toilet in your home. Things like whether you have DSTV, own a car, have a landline, cellphone or a music centre are also taken into consideration when they categorise your LSM. 

The LSMs range from LSM 1 which is typically rural folks who don't have access to hot running water, much less DStv to LSM 10 - typically someone who has a good paying job with a house and car.

It is mostly assumed that majority of South Africans fall below the LSM 6 mark since most people in this country are thought to be disadvantaged. Because of this assumption, our TV channels are filled with crappy shows that nobody watches but a few who are perceived to be debonair. 

What the LSM measure fails to comprehend is the culture of black South Africans. Many black household can easily afford a DSTV subscription but it is perceived to be a luxury. On the flip side of that, black South Africans have a tendency of living beyond their means. Someone would own a R500000 car while living in a shack. 

I much rather prefer ratings over LSM measures. While the ratings system is not 100% accurate either it does give a much more plausible indication of viewing patterns of South Africans. It not so much about who is watching but how many people are watching. 

Look at it this way; Say you have 100 tv viewers and have show A and B with 50% on the lower LSM and the other on the higher LSM. Show A gets 80 viewers who are lower LSM and show B gets 20 viewers who are a higher LSM. 

The general tendency is to back show B because even if it has the lowest numbers, its viewers are perceived to be sophisticated. A tad elitist, in my view. 

I say, given the unpredictability of black consumers, when dealing with this demographic I would rather go with show A. It has a majority of viewers so the likelihood of a good number of them being interested in my product as a marketer is higher than that of those snooty LSM 10 viewers who would most likely rather buy a famous international brand. 

In my opinion a show like Selimathunzi is a disaster because it is on the highest rated channel but fails to even attract 600 000 viewers. Even if 200 000 of their viewers are of a higher LSM than say... Khumbul'ekhaya, it is still an appalling performance for a show that is lauded by the channel like that. 

I am still lamenting about the fact that the Zone 14 cast is ignored by the media and do not get the publicity they deserve. This is a show that is watched by over 5 million viewers. Why are those actors not on covers of magazines? Why are presenters on shows that are only watched by thousands more praised and lauded as stars than the cast that is watched by millions, second only to Generations?

That is the madness of this industry. We often wonder why our South African industry is not growing. Nigerian industry with less resources than we do is producing millionaires in their stars. The reason for that is that they understand their fans and give the right people the star power they deserve and in return those stars are able to use their star power to influence product sales and trends.  

If people are not interested in watching a person on their screens, why the heck would they want to spend money buying a product they endorse. It does not matter how much the clueless media try and convince them by splashing this person's face everywhere. That is why South African celebrities' influence is only in journalists' heads not in the numbers. 

If we want to have real stars who can demand big cheques for their names, we have to start by backing people who actually have the numbers behind them not some perceived influence based on a system that is detached from our culture as South Africans. 


Click HERE and fill in a form to instantly see what LSM you are. 

1 comment:

Ntuthuzelo Mdledle said...

The industry in general lacks creativity in management as well as content. You are absolutely spot on on the presenter example. I still find it hard to cpmprehend how South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where television presenters are overwhelmingly more famous than their actor, singer and sport counterparts. Especially among the higher LSMs - Queen of Bling & Ms B groupies. I do not have any problem with neither Bonang or Khanyi, i actually think they are gorgeous and inspire alot of people. My main issue here is that the people who were brought in to entertain/engage viewers in between shows - real art content, whether it be a film or television series - have literally become the main show. Its astounishing really.

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