With BARC's new audience measurement system ready to make its debut, it’s a new dawn breaking on audience metrics in the television broadcast sector. But for other media such as print, radio or out of home, it’s a lot like the dark ages
THERE is a new dawn breaking on audience metrics in the television broadcast sector. The coming year is set to usher in a new audience measurement system for television under the aegis of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). The new ratings system from BARC will have 20,000-plus metered homes, as against incumbent Tam Media Research’s (TAM) panel of 10,300-plus metered homes, spanning 40,000-plus individuals in 225 towns. BARC is expected to add 10,000 homes each year, until the panel reaches 50,000 homes.
Audience measurement is crucial for any media platform—be it television, print, radio or outdoor— since it tells media owners, media planners and advertisers the media consumption patterns of the public and which programme on which channel is able to get the highest eyeballs. Advertisers and media agencies negotiate ad deals on the basis of these ratings.
However in India audience measurement has been in shambles for quite some time now both in television and print—the two media with the highest reach. Even for other media such as radio or outdoor it’s a lot like the dark ages. In the absence of significant syndicated research, advertisers are forced to buy inventory blindfolded.
Ajay Kakar, chief marketing officer at Aditya Birla Financial Services, says that the audience metrics for most mediums in the country, suffer from either low sample sizes or outdated methodologies of tracking or from inconsistencies in calculations. “A marketer will always look at these metrics as a reference point and nothing more. Decisions cannot be taken solely on the basis of numbers which are too small to be acceptable as representing the masses at large. Common sense and experience will play a big part in selection of different media,” says Kakar.
There is considerable strife in the print audience metrics arena. The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) was re-launched with much aplomb earlier this year only to be greeted with black flags from the publisher community. Two leading publishers of India—Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd (BCCL) which publishes newspapers such as The Times of India and business daily The Economic Times, and HT Media which has dailies Hindustan Times and business daily Mint under its fold—have been at loggerheads on the IRS figures and have used everything from ads to viral videos to long form editorial pieces to enumerate their point.
The IRS, mandated by the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI) and Media Research Users Council (MRUC) covered 1,60,000 household in urban India and 75,000 households in rural India. The survey showed significant dips in readership for most newspaper groups. In an unprecedented move, as many as 18 of India’s leading publishing firms released a joint statement pointing out anomalies in the new survey and urging the RSCI to roll back the findings, after which the study was put in abeyance. In August this year, the abeyance was lifted by the MRUC and RSCI. A statement issued by the MRUC stated that a revalidation committee had unanimously concluded that the methodology used to conduct IRS 2013 was in order. Suresh Srinivasan, vice president at Kasturi & Sons which publishes The Hindu says, “We are not happy with the lifting of the abeyance. We think it is important for the MRUC and the RSCI to collectively address the anomalies presented by the survey and the restore the confidence of the publisher community.”
A publisher on the condition of anonymity says that at least five leading publications have written to the RSCI, withdrawing any further financial support to the study. They also want their mastheads out of the study. Yet, the RSCI is contemplating releasing the next round by the end of December, says another industry executive closely associated with the MRUC.
Rahul Kansal, executive president at BCCL, says that there has been no resolution of the IRS issue so far. “I believe that most large advertisers are not supporting the re-start of the IRS, till there is adequate reassurance that the necessary fieldwork controls are in place.” Emails sent to the RSCI for this story, went unanswered.
TAM Media Research, the current TV rating agency is a 50:50 joint venture between Nielsen (India) Pvt. Ltd and Kantar Media Research, a unit of London-based advertising company WPP Plc. Television broadcasters have argued over time that the TAM viewership data is flawed and that the current sample does not adequately represent the complexity of India. In year 2012, New Delhi Television (NDTV) filed a lawsuit against Nielsen, alleging loss of revenue to the tune of at least $810 million over the last eight years, on account of ‘false, fabricated and manipulated data’. Earlier this year, the information and broadcasting ministry released a set of new guidelines for ratings agencies, in an attempt to rein TAM in. The guidelines prevented any single entity from having paid-up equity in excess of 10% simultaneously in both a rating agency and a broadcaster, advertiser or advertising agency. The government has also been trying to play the role of a facilitator in getting BARC to launch the new ratings regime. The effort to bring in a new ratings system has been on since 2007, but there have many delays on account of differences over the constitution of BARC and the funding.
A Tam Media Research spokesperson says, “We are already in the process of implementing further panel expansion and will continue with increasing more people meters in the months to come, based on the needs as well the requirements of our subscribing clients.”
BARC is now finally ready to make its debut. The body has tied up with the French audience measurement body MediaMetrie. The two companies will build the technology framework for audience measurement solution for BARC. “An investment of R225 crore has already been committed to this venture by its stakeholders to ensure its success,” says Partho Dasgupta, chief executive at BARC India, “Broadcasters have paid separately for the watermarking hardware, which is a sizeable investment as well.” Besides MediaMetrie, there are two overseas partners – Markdata from Portugal providing the graphical interface and Civolution, a Franco Dutch company providing the all-important watermark technology. Play-out monitoring is done by Prime Focus Technology. Hansa Research will provide the outreach for panel homes.
Shashi Sinha, chairman of the technical committee of BARC and IPG Mediabrands chief executive officer, said that all things were on schedule and by the first quarter of 2015, the new ratings system should be up and running. Dasgupta, however, is wary about putting an exact date to the launch. In other international markets, any shift to a new audience metrics system has taken at least a couple of years. “The meters have already been sent to the ground. The backend is also ready and we will soon start seeing the data. We want to take our time, test the data and validate it before we start using it commercially.”
The BARC advantage
Dasgupta says that the new technology is at least two generations ahead of the incumbent. Recorded programmes can also be measured. “Watermarking embeds a piece of code into the content. It is embedded in the audio track but is inaudible to humans. This data can later be extracted and interpreted by devices to identify, manage or monetise the content. France adopted watermarking technology in 2007 and US in 2013. Many other advanced countries are doing trials in order to move to the same system,” said Dasgupta.
Once the audio watermark is embedded in the transmission by the broadcaster, it cannot be deleted or over-written. BARC meters can measure the data even if it is played after the telecast. Meters can store data up to two months as per international standards. “Simulcast can also be monitored and accurately reported,” says Dasgupta, “The technology is platform agnostic—be it terrestrial, analog, digital or direct to home. It measures content through any means.”
Kakar of Aditya Birla Financial Services says that India has 154 million television households and the television medium accounts for 44% of the total ad spends—pegged annually at R18,800 crore. With so much at stake, it is imperative for a marketer to have a credible and robust “navigation tool” to guide him while taking key decisions, he says.
“The new system with 20,000 meters is set to be better by virtue of having more than double the number of meters vis-a-vis TAM. Keeping the delays and deadline extensions aside, the new system is supposed to have better security features to contend against data errors and manipulations. As a marketer, we do look forward to this system which allows for better representation of the audience and will get errors to decrease, thereby assuring relatively more accurate decisions. This will reflect in greater planning and buying efficiencies coming into play and greater value for money for marketers,” he notes.
Rohit Gupta, president at Multi Screen Media (MSM) said that the present audience measurement system does not reflect the true viewership of niche specialized channels. “The ratings fluctuate for specialized channels under TAM’s present ratings system. BARC is doing a lot of test runs and we think that it would put up a stable panel of metered devices across rural and urban markets. I think 20,000 metered homes is a good start, and believe that they will gradually increase the sample year on year as per ministry guidelines.”
Caught in static
Meanwhile, radio broadcast companies too are hoping to witness the winds of change, albeit only after the third phase of auction of FM radio licences happen. The existing Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) study was launched in 2007, as a joint service between IMRB International and Nielsen Media Research. RAM is an independent division of TAM Media Research. It uses the diary method to measure listenership by providing listenership data on a weekly basis. The RAM panel size is 600-plus individuals each in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Prashant Panday, chief executive officer at Radio Mirchi, part of Entertainment Network India Ltd says that the existing radio audience measurement mechanism doesn’t scratch the surface. “Not only does it suffer from fatal errors in the markets that it covers, it also fails very badly when it comes to its coverage across the country. Secondly, I would like the most basic of all such researches—the estimation study that encapsulates changes in the universe—to be done every year.” The last estimation study was done around four years back, he says.
Vineet Singh Hukmani, managing director of Radio One 94 says that the radio station stopped subscribing to RAM data a few years back. “We are waiting till phase three happens. Once the auctions are done, the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) definitely will have an important role to play in the setting up of radio audience metrics”
The Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Hansa Research had jointly launched the Indian Outdoor Survey (IOS) in 2009 for Mumbai and Pune. It was set to be rolled out in other cities as well. However any further progress was stalled because of lack of funding from the out of home industry. Nabendu Bhattacharyya, chief executive at Milestone Brandcomm said that MRUC and Hansa certainly played their role as facilitators. But the fragmented nature of the business has prevented any concrete action on audience measurement. “There is no syndicated out of home research. Everyone has their own benchmarks,” says Bhattacharyya.
“The technology USED BY BARC is platform agnostic – be it terrestrial, analog, digital or direct to home. It measures content SENT through any means.”Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC
“ratings fluctuate for specialiSed channels under TAM’s ratings system. we think BARC wILL put up a stable panel of metered devices across rural and urban markets.” Rohit Gupta, President, Multi Screen Media
“I believe that most large advertisers are not supporting the re-start of the IRS, till there is adequate reassurance that the necessary fieldwork controls are in place.” Rahul Kansal, Executive president, BCCL
“Not only does THE CURRENT RADIO RATINGS SYSTEM suffer from fatal errors in the markets that it covers, it also fails when it comes to its coverage across the country.” Prashant Panday, CEO, Radio Mirchi
“Decisions cannot be taken solely on the basis of numbers which are too small to be acceptable as representing the masses at large.”Ajay kakar, CMO, Aditya Birla, Financial Services