Lies and Stats

News from Belfast leaves me breathless. The MTV Awards were watched by 'a potential audience of 632 milllion' and generated 'an estimated £10m for the local economy'

Except that they didn't.

Statistics bandied about regarding tv audience figures invariably eminate from the promoters of events like the Ryder Cup or the MTV awards and are usually grossly exaggerated. Nobody is really going to count up all the people who may or may not have a tv set turned on while the MTV awards are being shown nor can they  measure those that bother to watch. In the case of 'contributions to the local economy', the benefit of events such as concerts, football games or festivals is all too often 'estimated' by somebody dashing out a press release.

The wonder is that the media take these statistics at face value and repeated publication gives them a certain credibility. For more than two decades I was associated with an Irish festival which claimed to attract '40,000 visitors' to its host town. The number never changed, irrespeective of the weather, the economic situation or the quality of the festival programme. Yet, it was reported faithfully every year.

Another piece of statistical inexactitude are the figures for visitor spending. The CSO can make a fair shot at counting visitor numbers because the carriers issue tickets, but spending estimates are merely based on surveys, the results of which are grossed up. They may be accurate- but nobody really knows because they are not actual statistics.

So, when you hear that an event is watched by ten billion tv viewers and generates a zillion to the economy of your town or village- just remember that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.




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