Mumbai: While browsing through the radio listenership data for Indian Readership Survey (the IRS), Tarun Katial, chief executive officer of Big 92.7 FM, was surprised to find that his stations were doing well in markets such as Ahmedabad, Jabalpur and Jaipur. It should have thrilled him, except that Big 92.7 FM doesn’t exist in those markets.
Katial has, in recent weeks, brought up the issue with the Media Users’ Research Council (MRUC), which includes radio listenership data in its IRS.
“We have initiated talks with MRUC and are optimistic of finding a more suitable measurement system. The IRS findings are so inaccurate that radio stations reported listenership in markets where they have no presence,” says Katial, who heads the 45-station FM radio network—a part of Reliance Media World Ltd.
After the complaints, the council withheld the radio listenership data in its latest IRS findings released on 23 November. MRUC will release the data in the coming weeks after addressing the issues, it said.
In another case of research agencies versus their clients, packaged goods firms recently disputed the sales findings of research agency Nielsen. Dabur India Ltd stopped subscribing to its data on hair oil, and Godrej Consumer Products Ltd complained about its numbers in the soaps and hair colour categories.
“There’s a great deal of variation in the overall sales figures reported by Nielsen and the stock that we’ve put in outlets,” H.K. Press, vice-president, Godrej Consumer Products, says. “In a universe of five million-plus outlets across India, Nielsen’s sample of 16,700 outlets is not large enough or relevant enough to tap the numbers.”
A spokesperson for Nielsen says that while clients may have unsubscribed from the Nielsen Retail Measurement Services data for some categories, “they have subscribed to other categories that have become important to them”.
As for radio listenership data, Sabina Solomon, general manager, MRUC, argues that even if a station doesn’t broadcast in a particular area, it can have listeners in that area.
Market research firms, whether they track retail sales, television viewership or newspaper readership, are being challenged by their clients.
The two traditional media vehicles—print and television —have been clamouring for new measurement systems for a while now, especially as advertising expenditure worth Rs20,717 crore, according to a 2008 Pitch-Madison report, is based on these surveys.
Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer of Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, publisher of The Times of India and The Economic Times, says research firms source samples for media surveys from electoral rolls that may not represent upwardly mobile, younger consumers who read newspapers.
“The IRS sample size must expand and become more quality conscious in terms of sampling techniques. There should be better validation checks on ground,” he says.
A top executive at rival HT Media Ltd, which publishes the Hindustan Times, Mint and Hindustan, declined to comment for the story.
To address these worries, MRUC is set to work with the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC), which used to conduct the now discontinued National Readership Study (NRS), for a merged survey with an enhanced sample size.
Television broadcasters, who depend mainly on TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd for channel shares and ratings of their shows, have time and again asked for a larger sample size, greater representation in uncovered markets and better metrics for digital platforms.
Joy Chakraborthy, chief revenue officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, underlines the need for a larger baseline study that would help identify new target groups and socio-economic classes and for more inputs from broadcasters in the ratings process.
“Perhaps we could have an MRUC-style technical committee where broadcasters are also involved,” he says.
Research agencies, on the other hand, complain they don’t have the investments they need to sort out many of these issues.
Suresh Nimbalkar, vice-president at Hansa Research Pvt. Ltd, says, “The print industry is valued at Rs10,000 crore (subscription revenue not included). Ironically, it spends only Rs8 crore on getting a currency for itself.”
As for the charges, he defends the research houses, saying neither is the sample size limited nor are the upwardly mobile ignored in the readership surveys. “The IRS selects only one in six households from the voter list. So, there is ample room for households not registered in the voter list to get included in the IRS.”
TAM, on its part, claims its ratings panel in India is the largest in the world and this should douse the debate on sample size. Moreover, the agency now monitors states such as Bihar and Assam, says L.V. Krishnan, CEO of TAM Media Research.