Race against time

Written by Anushree Chandran | Updated: Jan 28 2014, 14:32pm hrs
Last week, an innocuous little ad given by Kantar Media Research in mainline newspapers coincided with the debut party of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). BARC, which was just a thought in year 2007 and was formally constituted only in year 2012, was gearing up to make a landmark announcement in television audience measurement with the France based Mediametrie. The advertisement by Kantar Media Research, part of UK based WPP Plc and one of the parents of television ratings company TAM Media Research chose this very day, to remind readers of the ratings firms many achievements in the Indian market and why it was not a monopoly, though it certainly was the preferred currency.

The ad talked about the recent guidelines on television audience measurement framed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and approved by the Union Cbinet, which advised that television rating agencies need to have multiple owners in order to avoid conflict of interest and that no single entity can have paid-up equity in excess of 10% simultaneously in both a rating agency and a broadcaster, advertiser or advertising agency. Parts from the ad go as follows: TAM Media Research was created 15 years ago at the request of Indian advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasters. They suggested that Kantar and Nielsen the two global leaders in television audience measurement come together to form a joint research company to provide measurement data, using their global expertise and technology. It is a myth that TAM is a monopoly. Over the last few decades, several companies have provided television measurement data and alternatives exist. However, the fact that the data is a currency means that customers typically prefer to have one supplier. The involvement of international parent companies in TAM was demanded by the Indian advertising industry: their expertise provides the latest technology, investment and expertise in television measurement.

Kantar Research has now filed a writ petition against the government of India in the Delhi High Court, stating that the new guidelines will put Tam out of business. Thomas Puliyel, president at IMRB International, part of Kantar Group said, "There has been a lot of innuendo and uninformed discussion on TAM, its methodology and technology. The purpose of the announcement was to set the record straight and put the facts to all our stakeholders. We have talked of our commitment to the business over the last 15 years. And our investment in infrastructure and technology and the fact that we have been invited by the industry the advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasters to set up a TAM system using our global expertise and technology."

The advert further goes on to state that no other market in which such cross ownership exists, such as the United Kingdom (UK), France and Spain, has imposed restrictions on cross ownership between market research agencies like TAM and advertising agencies. TAM and its shareholders have invested R150 crore in increasing the panel size and improving the technology and infrastructure. It cautions that the guidelines on cross ownership would leave the industry without ratings, for most of 2014. TAM is a joint venture between Nielsen India and Kantar Media Research.

An executive involved with BARC questioned the timing of the ad by Kantar, which attempts to strengthen TAMs case for handling the business in India. I am not sure if it was directed at the ministry of information and broadcasting. More likely, it was directed at the television and advertising industry, which is trying to bring in a next generation audience measurement system. If the intent was to muddy the waters for BARC, it seems to have had the counter effect, said the executive who did not want to be named.

Another BARC executive reveals that Kantar Media Research and Nielsen India were well into the final stages of the hunt for the technology partner, but could not bag the business because Mediametrie turned out to be 20% cheaper. In fact, they were being considered, as recent as a few days before the announcement with Mediametrie, he said. Puliyel from IMRB said that they did bid for the BARC technology mandate. "If BARC is confident of their product, the technology and the contractor they have selected, they should welcome competition and the presence of TAM. Let the markets decide the outcome. Why is it necessary to force a ratings-dark period for a new player to emerge That is unprecedented," says Puliyel.

The entire cost of the new survey is expected to be R125 crore. TAM will bid for the business in the deployment stage, added the BARC executive who declined to be named, We are in last minute discussions with a huge international company for the next stage, which is, the production and procurement of the metering devices.

BARC is a joint industry body that was set up with the specific purpose of designing, commissioning, supervising and owning Indias television audience measurement system. BARC is a joint venture bringing together the three key stakeholders broadcasters, ad agencies and advertisers. They are represented by their respective apex bodies, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI). The new television viewership research will be owned 60% by the IBF, and 20% each by the ISA and AAAI. It will have 25,000 meters in place, across 20,000 homes. The data will roll out from October 1 this year, as per plans and BARC is also in talks with banks on some of the funding.

Punit Goenka, chairman, BARC and chief executive and managing director of Zee Entertainment said that the French body Mediametrie was in many ways similar to BARC. Mediametrie was also a joint industry body, evolved through time and meeting the requirements of the industry. It has been operating the television, internet and radio currency rating systems and has been engaged in multimedia audience research for the past 25 years. It has been designing and developing their own metering systems for the last 15 years. I am delighted at this association with Mediametrie. We will take a quantum leap in technology for audience measurement in the country with this. Being an industry body; they give a lot of emphasis on transparency and security. Which we are also doing. Over time, the measurement process and the data needs to belong, and be owned by the industry. We will develop audience measurement technology in such a way, that we eliminate any industry reliance on one individual or for-profit entity, said Goenka. He added that the main advantage of using the watermarking technology was that it differentiates between live broadcast versus stored programming versus internet content. The way it works is each type of content gets a unique embedding of code. This technology is used in three currency markets, France, Morocco and the Netherlands. Under the arrangement, Mediametrie will provide technological know-how and licences to BARC to use their television metering system and will also help BARC procure its own metering hardware.

Mediametrie is expected to provide the software to measure audiences in real time, and train engineers to help develop and deploy the measurement meters. Benoit Cassaigne, senior vice president at Mediametrie said, We are very happy and proud of BARCs confidence in our solutions and expertise. We are thrilled to bring our know-how on such a television market and share it with BARC, a company which is very similar to us in its DNA. We are sharing a lot already in term of philosophy and vision and I am sure we will go far together. However, Mediametrie is yet to handle a market as complex in India. For instance, its panel in France is 15,000 meters whereas the government requirement in the initial stage is 20,000 meters.

Shashi Sinha, chief executive of IPG Mediabrands and member of technical committee of BARC, said that the watermarking technology has amazing levels of accuracy. France has been using this for seven years now. The US has shifted to it around 18 months back. A whole lot of us went to Paris and we spoke to other broadcasters, advertisers, ad agencies and there were hardly any complaints. It is quite unlike what we are used to in India. The ratings come out promptly every morning by 9.30 am. There was only one broadcaster who bitterly voiced his complaint that the ratings on one particular day were five minutes late. And we said, Wow, thats a great situation to be in. Sinha says that there will be multiple partners in the rollout of the new measurement system, much like the BARB (The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) model of the United Kingdom. We worked out our RFIs (request for information) in January and got some of the best companies in the world to write to us. It generated a lot of global response. We divided the whole process into three parts technology solutions, panel management and quality control. We are using the robust baseline study of the Indian Readership Survey, which is Indias largest survey.

As per Sinha, the gains are more than the risks of involving multiple partners. We get the best of technology, checks and balances and also costs. October 1 is a tall order for BARC, but Sinha is optimistic that they will be able to meet the deadline. Normally countries take three years or more to develop such a system.

But we are moving at a good pace and getting this done within a few months. Just because we are going sequentially and announcing our deal with Mediametrie now, doesnt quite mean that we havent been working on other aspects (stages) of the research.

Ajay Kakar, chief marketing officer of the financial services division of Aditya Birla Group said, "BARC has progressed well on the lines of issuing the request for proposal (RFP) and now, finalising Mediametrie as the vendor who will manage and implement the entire ratings system. The use of audio watermarks is another feature that will help get accurate measurements. The new meters will look at parallel viewing in mobile and tablets, as also delayed viewing and will give us a comprehensive picture. My expectation at this stage is that the entire process should not be delayed and we should get things going in time."

Independent media consultant Paritosh Joshi, who is also part of the technical committee of BARC says, We should be making an announcement on who would be providing the metering devices for us by early February. The prototypes will have to be studied by Mediametrie because it is their technology. Good metering solutions come with very low failure rates. For the third stage, which is the deployment, the RFP (request for proposal) will be out very soon. Joshi says that there are great advantages of having multiple partners. Under this system, each silo is sealed off from the other. Making it that much more difficult to manipulate.

Both TAM Media Research and BARC seem to be facing an increasing amount of pressure, because of the set in stone guidelines put out by the Trai, and ratified by the Union Cabinet. There is a 30-day lead time frame for incorporating the changes to the ownership pattern of the ratings agency concerned, and any non-compliance will lead to the forfeiting of two bank guarantees worth Rs1 crore, furnished by the company in the first instance. If non-compliance still persists, the registration of the agency will be revoked. The guidelines call for an immediate change in the equity pattern of TAM Media Research, the existing television ratings company.

The government also directed rating agencies to scale up to a minimum panel size of 20,000 homes within six months of the guidelines coming into force and thereafter increase the panel size by 10,000 every year till it reaches 50,000 homes. Of the total panel homes, 25% will be rotated every year. The guidelines further state that every television rating agency will have to set up an internal audit mechanism to get its entire methodology audited on a quarterly basis and through an independent auditor annually. All audit reports will have to be made available on the website of the rating agency and the government and Trai reserve the right to audit the systems, procedures and mechanisms of the rating agency. The new rules are expected to come into operation from February 15.

An industry representation has already been in touch with the ministry of information and broadcasting, requesting for more time to comply with the guidelines, but ministry officials have refused to relent, say sources who declined to be named. If TAMs licence is revoked, the guidelines could plummet the advertising industry into yet another ratings crisis or blackout, they add. Advertisers will have to get into ad deals with broadcasters blindfolded, with no immediate benchmarks for reference. It also puts increasing pressure on BARC to get the show on the road immediately. There is no settling period. Puliyel from IMRB International said that Trai had in its initial recommendations categorically advised that it was not desirable for government to control and monitor the rating system. "While some of the recommendations are appropriate, there are other guidelines that will result in even lower panel quality. For example, there are guidelines that put at risk the security that we have put in place around the identity of the panel homes. The cross holding clause also aims to restrict competition in the industry. It is unthinkable for a service like TAM where there is such a high degree of industry involvement and oversight that any one stakeholder can influence the ratings to their advantage. We will explore all avenues for our voice to be heard and we believe that there are several sections of the industry that are supportive of our point of view," said Puliyel.

In an earlier conversation with BrandWagon, Ashok Venkatramani, chief executive of Media Content and Communications Ltd (MCCS), part of the Ananda Bazar Patrika Group, had said that if TAM runs the risk of losing out to BARC on the television audience measurement business, there was no reason for it to invest in more people meters.

Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer (COO) of Star India said that October 2014 is a realistic deadline for BARC. But the issue of the guidelines was another problem altogether. What an ideal measurement system ought to be this subject has been in discussion in the country for more than three years. It began with the Amit Mitra committee report in 2010. To my mind, as a system and as an industry, we have chosen not to act on it. I do believe that the existing television system is not comprehensive. So I do not know if it is okay for TAM to continue over the next few months, because its sample is less than 10,000 meters and falls below the government specifications of 20,000 meters. We need a good sample in order for the data to be robust, reasonable and comprehensive, said Gupta. He adds that the situation is still evolving and its entirely possible that TAM could engage with the government and buy itself some time. But if it is indeed a ratings blackout that the industry has to face, they certainly will find some way of coping with it, said Gupta. We have dealt with a dark period when there were no ratings. This happened after digitisation began and there was a lot of flux in ratings. During that period, old ratings were kept as the basis for transactions, he said.

Sinha said that the industry would have appreciated more time to cope with the requirements of the guidelines. It would have helped BARC settle to the task at hand. But its up to TAM really, to see if they can comply with the guidelines, he said. Goenka from Zee said that a data dark period will put more pressure on industry stakeholders. It will be unfortunate if that happens. While the IBF or BARC cant formally intervene, I understand that some of the industry executives have met the ministry and requested for more time. But I am not sure of the progress on that front, he said.

Kantar Research claims that TAM covers a panel of 35,000 individuals in 225 cities through 9,600 people meters, making India one of TAMs five largest panels globally. It said in its advert that it is on the way to achieve the desired target of 20,000-plus meters in consultation with stakeholders. Rohit Gupta, president at Multi Screen Media (MSM) which runs Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and Sab said that TAM faces huge challenges, especially with regard to the cross-holding requirements. But theyve been operational for more than 15 years now. Its strange that these issues, especially on cross holding have only now come to the fore, said Gupta. Ajay Kakar of Aditya Birla Group said that if TAM is asked to not publish the data because of failure in meeting the guidelines, the big concern will be the interim period. "The new fiscal begins in April and we will be without ratings till the BARC ratings come in. How does one plan and how does one buy during this interim period Advertisers invest a lot on television and it would be a frightful scenario if significant investments have to be made solely on gut feeling."