In 2005, India had about 65 million TV homes of which about 40 million were already C&S connected. Responding to the rapid growth of television viewers, broadcast businesses of every stripe were accelerating launches in every genre. There was a problem, though. The measurement system, TAM — a JV between two market research giants, Nielsen and Kantar, that were implacable adversaries in most parts of the world — had begun to fall behind market growth. TV was everywhere but the viewership panel was not. This denied critical data and insight to every participant in the TV value chain. For TAM, further investments in expanding its panel to smaller urban centres and then across rural India were fraught with uncertainties on whether it could be recouped. It was time for major stakeholders in the industry: broadcasters, advertisers and agencies to develop a joint industry initiative for television audience measurement.
i. Every stakeholder segment had different, sometimes mutually contradictory, expectations.
ii. The investment and cost of a de novo system was expected to run into hundreds of crores but nobody was keen to stump up the funding without clarity on its benefits from the outputs of the future ratings ‘factory’.
iii. There had been persistent allegations of tampering with every stage of the TAM process. The new system had to offer unprecedented levels of security and reliability.
iv. Broadcast and content consumption technologies were evolving rapidly and the new system needed to be rapidly and continuously adaptive.
v. The measurement technology was supposed to be frightfully expensive. A single metre was meant to cost Rs 1 lakh or more. The panel was expected to keep growing to keep pace with the growth of the market and this kind of fixed cost would abort the project.
Leading a joint industry initiative demands endless patience, keen listening, accommodative engagement, deft diplomacy and speedy problem solving. Suffice it to say that BARC India pulled together through all manner of thick and thin, always keeping the goal of measuring What India Watches. There were a few learnings:
i. Unlike a for-profit enterprise, a not-for-profit enterprise such as BARC India must prioritise its functional purpose well ahead of financial considerations. This can only be achieved by a separation of powers between the custodians of the functional task and custodians of the books of account. BARC India, in its essence, has a bicameral governance structure. The Technical Committee (TechCom) is responsible for design, quality, oversight and outputs of all audience research activities. The Board is responsible for goal setting over the long horizon, and financial health and durability of the enterprise.
ii. Most measurement systems appoint a turnkey vendor who is tasked with all operational and technology-related activities. Disaggregating all solutions and services gave four advantages: access to relevant technology and knowledge, lower procurement costs, de-risking network by localising problems along the value chain, and healthy competition across its vendor network to deliver services to BARC India.
iii. Explicit or implicit endorsement by statutory authority is a great enabler and force multiplier for an industry body. BARC India (and the work that led to it) while being entirely in the private domain, maintained a healthy dialogue with key actors like the MIB and TRAI.
Measurement is a trust business. Trust in a measurement system comes from fidelity — measurement accurately represents the ebbs and flows of viewer behaviour and integrity — the mechanism is free of manipulation, tampering and other malicious intent/behaviour. Stakeholders discover early that a small favourable change in measurement, however indiscriminately obtained, can deliver manifold advantages to the business. They commence to prod and poke the system looking for vulnerabilities and wade in when they find them. BARC India has done well to build layers of defensive and offensive protections to ward off mala fide actions and, where required, use punitive methods to straighten out delinquencies.
Furthermore, content creation, distribution and consumption are all metamorphosing constantly. BARC India must see itself as a R&D organisation that is constantly scouting for, prototyping and testing solutions of and for the future of audio-visual measurement. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” That is, as you must surely remember, the sage advice offered by the Red Queen to Alice in Through The Looking Glass. Unsolicited as it is, that would be my advice to BARC India.
Author is Principal, Provocateur Advisory