GeoPoll uses low-tech SMS to create a TV ratings service in Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa building a TV ratings service is quite a difficult task.  There aren’t any Nielsen boxes, and a large part of the population has no access to a PC on which to take a TV watching poll. But what most people do have is mobile phone.

Few of those people have smartphones, and even fewer have access to anything more than a 2G connection, but no matter how basic a phone is, it will always have SMS. GeoPoll is using SMS and voice channels to launch an overnight TV ratings service in five African countries – a first of its kind for the continent, the company claims.

A sample of TV audience measurement data taken by GeoPoll in Ghana (source: GeoPoll)

A sample of TV audience measurement data taken by GeoPoll in Ghana (source: GeoPoll)

As I’ve written before, GeoPoll is one of the growing number of companies determined to create sophisticated mobile services and demographic data tools in underdeveloped countries while remaining undeterred by the lack of wireline and mobile data communications in those regions.

GeoPoll uses SMS to send out basic surveys and collects reams of demographic data from its opt-in participants to refine its results. GeoPoll can follow up a basic text poll with an automated survey via a phone call, and for those users with a smartphone or a basic mobile web browser, it can do online polling as well. And it works with the mobile carriers to compensate its participants with airtime credits.

GeoPoll is a venture of Denver-based Mobile Accord, which operates the SMS-based charitable giving service mGive, and it’s not just collecting TV data. GeoPoll works with non-profits to collect data on the state of irrigation and road infrastructure in remote villages. It has worked with the World Bank to collect opinions from millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo about how their country could recover from years of war.


But GeoPoll’s TV audience measurement service is one of its more commercial ventures, collecting data it can sell to broadcasters, networks, ad buyers or anyone else trying to gauge the television-watching tastes of millions of people in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. GeoPoll said it plans to launch in more African countries in the coming months.

The timing of the launch, though, isn’t random. It coincides with the World Cup, one of the most watched TV events in the world. Two of the five countries GeoPoll is tracking have qualified for the World Cup, Ghana and Nigeria.  Considering Ghana made it all the way to quarterfinals in 2014– as far as any African team has ever advanced – expectations are high.