Mumbai: Media Research Users Council (MRUC), a non-profit body that conducts and validates research of print readership in India, has failed in attempts to enlist an Australian partner to conduct its biannual Indian Readership Survey (IRS) because of differences over terms of a tie-up, said two persons with knowledge of the development.
MRUC and Roy Morgan Research Pty Ltd were close to signing a so-called memorandum of understanding (MoU) and had even got their lawyers to draft the paperwork, but the agreement fell through at the last moment, said an MRUC committee member who didn’t want to be named.
Roy Morgan was willing to partially fund the survey as long it was run and executed by the Australian researcher, said a publisher and leading member of the Indian Newspaper Society who also didn’t want to be identified. “The talks fell apart because of legal clauses in Roy Morgan’s proposal which said MRUC would have limited say in how they conduct and validate the research,’’ the publisher added.
Sabina Solomon, general manager of MRUC, refused to comment, saying it was an internal matter. Roy Morgan did not respond to emails sent by Mint on Tuesday evening.
Advertisers and media buyers decide on ad space based on readership figures published by bodies such as MRUC and the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC), whose annual National Readership Survey (NRS) has not been published for three years because of perceived anomalies in its findings.
MRUC had been on the lookout for a new partner to conduct the IRS because its contract with research firm Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd, which has been handling the survey, was close to expiring.
If Roy Morgan comes back with fresh set of terms, MRUC would be willing to reconsider a tie-up, said the MRUC member. And if all else fails, the IRS project could remain with Hansa although the latter has been in talks with NRSC to conduct a revived NRS.
Trade website exchange4media.com, citing people it didn’t name, reported on Thursday that Hansa Research had already been chosen for a new round of the NRS and that the survey would be published on a quarterly basis starting in 2010. Ashok Das, managing director of Hansa Research, declined to comment, it said.
However, the two persons cited earlier in this story told Mint the issue was still open because funding for the NRS remains a problem. The NRSC has been facing difficulties in reviving the NRS because Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), India’s largest newspaper publisher, has declined to contribute its Rs2.5 crore share for the survey, Mint reported on 13 April. The NRS, conducted by AC Nielsen ORG-Marg Pvt. Ltd, was discontinued in 2006.
BCCL, which publishes The Times of India and The Economic Times, competes with HT Media Ltd, publisher of the Hindustan Times and Mint.
Various other publishers were also yet to formally agree on funding the NRS, contending that they were paying much less for the competing IRS,Mint reported in the same 13 April story.
The media has been hit by fallout from the economic downturn that has caused domestic and external demand to slow and turned the taps off on funding for many industries.
Amid the funding and partnership issues, some media houses favour the NRSC and MRUC conducting one joint readership study instead of carrying out separate surveys.
At an 18 May meeting, the NRSC proposed a joint survey. Various attempts by both parties through the years to conduct a joint study, however, fell through because of their differing visions for the study.
Hormusji N. Cama, director of Bombay Samachar Pvt. Ltd, who is also president of Indian Newspaper Society and is on the NRSC governing council, said “At the meeting, some of the publishers expressed their views on the suitability of merging the two surveys because at this point resources are scarce for various publications.”
Paresh Nath, deputy president of INS and publisher, Delhi Press Pvt. Ltd, however, sees logistical challenges in such a union. MRUC is registered as a company and its governors are seen as directors of a company board. NRSC is not registered as a company. Nath asks: “How will they include NRSC council members in the MRUC board of governors?’’
Still, many media planners, buyers and publishers say a united survey offers advantages, including substantial costs savings.
Ajit Varghese, managing director of media specialist Maxus India, GroupM India Pvt. Ltd, says a merged print readership survey is better than the confusion of two research studies.
“TAM and in-TAM merged and this made TV media easier to track. Otherwise there’s always the confusion of two sets of numbers,” he said.
Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer of BCCL, said it’s better to have one robust survey instead of two sub optimal surveys. “I think there can be a lot done in the area of validation of data and control on fieldwork. What is happening now in the readership surveys is that there are secondary objectives to print numbers. The survey tries and finds out linkages between TV and print; and print and product consumption, which depreciates the print data.”