Interview with National Public broadcasting Company’s principal investigator of viewership.
The channels of the so-called "Medvedchuk's group"—112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK that lost their ability to broadcast in early February, had a solid audience of information content consumers. After President Volodymyr Zelensky put into effect the NSDC decision to impose restrictive sanctions on them, experts began to wonder who exactly would poach the former viewers of the group.
Many thought that the majority of this audience would receive another small channel of the group—Nash. However, this did not happen.
What does this say about the consumers of the information product and what to expect next? Will the closure of pro-Kremlin channels protect Ukraine from new pro-Russian products? Orest Biloskurskhiy, Head of the research department of the JSC National Public Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (UA: First), told about all this.
- What do the research data show: where did the audience of Viktor Medvedchuk's closed channels flow?
- First we need to identify what the audience is. These are not just all those who watched them, but those who did it regularly and a lot. The latter include those who, ten days before the shutdown, watched these channels for at least an hour a day. That is, real viewers.
Next, we looked at how these people behaved on February 3, 4, and 5. Weekends were not taken into account, as the concept of consumption changes on Saturday and Sunday. As a result, we made the following conclusions.
First, the sum of Medvedchuk's channels and his channel Nash, which remained, after the closure cannot be compared with the audience of the latter. Earlier there was a hypothesis that after the closure the entire audience will switch to Nash. However, not everyone continued to consume "Medvedchuk’s" news.
Why did it happen? The audience of any of the channels consists of two parts: real viewers and casual ones—those who watch them briefly. Usually in the ratings, these groups of people are divided in a 50/50 ratio. Therefore, one cannot expect that after the disappearance of any channel, 100% of its viewers will switch to somewhere. After all, half of these viewers were accidental—they did not even notice that the channel was gone.
It's like spontaneous purchases in a store: if you go out to buy bread, this does not prevent you from buying chewing gum at the register. If the gum disappears, you will not run about in panic and think about what to buy instead.
Only half of the audience remained that, relatively speaking, "came to the store for chewing gum" and suddenly asked: "Where is my chewing gum?!" If they are not there, they will look for some other option.
- So where did the audience switch to?
- It is important to understand that when we talk about measuring the audience, the main thing is not the number of people, but the number of hours during which they consume the product. According to my estimates, 35-40% of this time was taken by the entertainment programs of the Enter-film, STB, ICTV channels. Nash received 38% of the total consumption of Medvedchuk's channels. And 62% of the time was freed up—and these percentages switched to other channels.
- How significant is this from the point of view of advertisers or political scientists who assess the channels’ impact on the audience?
- It makes no sense to count in persons. For example, the "Mask Show" on TV channel TRK "Ukraine" boasts that the program was watched by 8.5 million viewers. But of these, 1.5 million people watched the program for less than three minutes during three episodes. Are these 1.5 million your viewers or not? Likewise, if we talk about the channels of the "Medvedchuk’s group", one can count that they had 9 million viewers. But 4.5 million of this group watched them 2 minutes a day. Therefore, is it worth considering them as an audience, or are they just spontaneous viewers who "hung" on the channel for several minutes while switching?
- Well, then how can you assess the real figures of the "Medvedchuk’s" channels?
- Imagine all the people who have watched TV for some time. Calculate the time accounted for each of them. Add it. So, 7% of this figure was accounted for Medvedchuk's channels, including Nash.
- Well, these are some pitiful figures...
- Well, compared to what they are pitiful: the largest channel in the country—TRK "Ukraine"—takes 10% of the time, and these four channels—7%. Now the channel "Nash", for different audiences,—3%. At the start, they had 0.5%. So it turns out that people did not automatically switch to Medvedchuk's channel that remained. In fact, the audience of the group decreased to 3%.
It is important to understand the following: even if you take this 7%, then they still need to be decomposed into different components. For example, let's say that 100,000 people watch you 10 hours a day, and you might think that your channel takes 5% of people's attention. On the other hand, you may have a small channel that is watched by 1 million people for one hour. The influence of both will be similar.
- These channels are called close to the Kremlin. They were believed to have great political influence. Knowing these figures, can we talk about a decrease in this influence and about who will take advantage of it?
- I, perhaps, will express an opinion that is an alternative to the one that the majority has. First of all, the influence of these channels has been exaggerated. There were actually figures, there was attention, but these were very specific viewers. And now this bubble has spread between other channels. But it wasn't big enough for anyone to be overjoyed at the achievement
- So there is no big victory?
- Yes. Everyone believed that a cow gives, say, 100 liters of milk. And what now—we will split these 100 liters. But it turned out that not all of this was milk and there is really nothing to split.
- What's next? Will this event have any impact on the Ukrainian media space?
- It all depends on how the owners adapt. Around the same time a year ago, satellite channels were encoded. And everyone also said: "The channels are coded, and what should the viewers do? Where will they switch to? Where will they be distributed?" In principle, viewers calmly survived channel coding and very quickly set up their new habits—the media landscape has not changed much.
Here is the same story. There are 12-13 information channels in Ukraine. Nowhere else in the world is there such a dominance of information channels. Therefore, those that remain will calmly return to the total share.
- But they will have a different political color.
- This, too, it seems to me, is a great exaggeration. When we conduct focus groups, viewers tell us that they are "in the know," they know who owns this or that channel, what political views are there, and where it leads. In fact, they look not at the channel's background, but at its picture and the quality of the content delivery. When the channels disappear, they begin to fill their attention, given the latter. They will not rush to look for other pro-Russian channels, as if they cannot live without them. No, they will adapt and will quietly switch to those available to them.
- And what about the channels of Petro Poroshenko—Pryamyi and Channel 5, as well as TV channel 24. Did they get a chance to increase their audience?
- It's like the sea, where there is an ebb and flow. Like a Brownian movement: some have left the information space for the entertainment space, others—on the contrary. My favorite example is supermarkets. You have a choice: Silpo, ATB, Megamarket, and Novus are nearby. If Novus is closed, those who went there need to decide where to go now. Most likely, some of them will switch to online delivery in the virtual world. And the rest will be scattered across the remaining stores in proportion to their size. For example, if Megamarket is gigantic, then it will conditionally take for itself a larger number of visits. That is, the process is such that no one will run about and strain to find certain content.
The history of the "Medvedchuk’s" channels on YouTube clearly demonstrates this. Their viewers did not rush there to look for them shouting: "My God, this is my favorite channel!"
- On YouTube, they have no chance to climb up now?
- Their current statistics are now 1.5-4 thousand views on the Internet. That is, earlier they could be watched in the recording, but online the audience lost its interest for them. If they had a super valuable resource and it became inaccessible, and there would be some kind of "crazy" audience that "were real fans" of them and tried to watch them in alternative places, it would be different. But now they don't run after them to alternative places.
It's like a store that has been sealed. Don't think that you had some exclusive customers who went to your store just because they went to their store. Of course, you can indulge yourself with such a thought. But in fact, they will gladly betray you in a week and will go to any other available store.
- Well, the influence of these channels can be indirectly seen from the growth of the rating of the opposition political forces. Do you see this correlation?
- Mathematically, it doesn't exist. Conventionally, there is the Opposition Platform—For Life with their four or six channels, if you add some more microscopic ones. But the level of support for their party reaches 20%, and the level of viewing of their channels—up to 7%. On the other hand, there are other parties where the level of viewing of their channels is significantly higher, but the party's popularity figures are significantly lower. Therefore, I would not say that there is any direct relationship.
- What can the owners of these channels do to get attention back?
- A long time ago it was written about this in the media and it was said in hangouts that there were such wonderful channels as, for example, UkrLife and First Independent that are prepared as their spare media platforms. It is very easy to take and broadcast from any studio X on channel Y. I think it's not difficult: the journalists are the same, the projects are the same. Nothing will stop them from broadcasting on these platforms.
- But it is needed to make it not so easy.
- Back to my favorite example with shops. If your store is sealed, you can build a new one around the corner, or you can move to the same one, just change the sign, paint it and make the grand opening. And your audience will quickly appear.
Now in cable networks in place of these channels black screens are being broadcast. If you had NewsOne on the 36th button, and in a week Ukrlife will appear there that will show you the same content in terms of content, the audience, in principle, will quickly find you. It is important not to prolong the pause here: the longer it lasts, the sooner people will forget about them.