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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Poll Puts Game Show at Top

What is the most popular television program in Russia? It's not the news and it's not the endless Supreme Soviet debates or rock videos that fill much of Russian airtime.

According to the most recent Gallup poll, Pole Chudes, the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune, takes honors as - far and away - the most-watched television show in European Russia with a commanding 45 percent rating.

In a country where television was a state monopoly and advertising barely existed until a few years ago, Gallup Poll's Russian Media Monitor project is trying to market its service to both foreign and Russian companies that want to know what their potential customers watch, hear and read, said Nick North, project manager at Gallup for the Russian polls.

The best place to put an advertisement, according to Gallup's monthly polls, may be Pole Chudes, a Friday-night show inspired by Wheel of Fortune that is viewed by an estimated 45 percent of people over age 11 in European Russia, an unusually high rating by Western standards, North said.

Next are the Saturday night movies of Columbia Picture Presents, with a 33 percent rating in the latest poll, conducted in mid June. On week nights, the Novosti news program on Channel 1 stays only barely ahead of Santa Barbara and Crime Stories on the Russian channel, which draw up to 25 percent of the audience at around the same time.

Recent polls, North said, have shown that "people watch programs, not channels", which explains why Russian television gets high ratings for a few programs while drawing only a small audience on average.

Brand recognition surveys are showing that television advertising can be quite influential.

"We have been surprised from the beginning in how sophisticated Russians are in terms of brand awareness", he said, listing Mars bars, chewing gums and consumer electronics as products easily named by viewers.

While the first polls, which began in April 1992, showed that Russians had more faith in Western than in Russian commercials. North said, the distinction has blurred as a growing number of Russian agencies created advertisements for Western products.

"The Russians do not think of them as international brands anymore", he said.

The polls are conducted using 1, 000 Russians handpicked to represent different age and income groups in Moscow, St. Petersburg and 17 other European-Russian cities as well as in rural areas. They keep a diary for three months and check off the channels they watch, the radio stations they listen to and the media publications they read.

In addition, they tell in monthly interviews what they thought of the programs and advertisements they watched. Clients, mostly companies and advertising agencies trying to market a product in Russia, can also add questions to test brand awareness or the popularity of their commercials, North said.

North said the diary poll is used by BBC, Columbia Tri-Star and several advertising agencies, while a growing number of companies test their brand recognition in the interviews each month. Most of his clients are foreign companies, but North said private Russian television channels had started to compete with government channels, making ratings more important to both Russian and foreign and advertisers.

The Gallup polls, first held in Russia last year, are conducted by the Marketing Information Center, a joint venture set up by Gallup Finland and the All-Russian Research Institute for Trends and Demand, and sponsored by BBDO Marketing, North said.

The responses are analyzed at the British office of the U. S. -based Gallup agency, and can be turned into estimates of consumption behavior of any group used in the polls, North said.

The pollers plan to increase the number of viewers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, after clients complained that the results were not representative enough of the two cities they were most interested in. But North said he wanted to keep his service representative of European Russia as a whole, with possible expansion into Siberia in the future.