Where does the buck stop with TV ratings?

Where does the buck stop with TV ratings?
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First Published: Wed, Sep 19 2007. 12 45 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Sep 19 2007. 12 45 AM IST
We all have our favourite whipping boys. For the advertising, media and broadcasting communities, I suspect it’s third-party data providers such as TAM Media Research who are often flayed. Theirs is the unenviable task of measuring
television viewing audiences for programmes and commercials nationwide, minute by minute. The moment a channel or programme starts slipping on the viewership ratings, the research body’s scale, process and findings seem to particularly face the heat. After all, media buyers buy advertising time based on these critical digits.
There’s a cross-industry initiative under way, led by the Indian Broadcasters Federation (IBF), seeking to have more say in TAM’s measurement system and provide vital guidelines. Their wish list: everything from TAM having people meters or audience measuring devices in rural areas to a larger representative sample. In media-evolved markets such as the US, broadcasters help set guidelines in these systems. Of course, media owners and advertisers may have to put their money where their wish is, since establishing a wider base of people meters costs a packet.
It may be true that a TAM, while recognized by industry, has room for improvement. I, however, wonder why murmurs related to television audience measurement are getting louder. Production houses now often query these figures. The perception though is that these houses don’t know how to use this data. And, that they often get miffed when their shows get less than healthy viewership numbers. So, beat the third party?
Television, as a viewing and advertising medium is fragmenting, with so many new channels beaming in. The domino effect is less audiences for certain programmes/channels, followed by declining advertiser interest. Challenge the data provider, hence?
The leadership race is getting keener in the broadcast space. Curiously, certain channels debunk viewership figures when their numbers or overall rank slip, and then celebrate the same figures in ads when numbers roll in their favour.
As for advertisers, they question their return on investments and ad rates paid, based on viewership numbers. Broadcasters, however, often crib that these numbers don’t reflect their true audience size and that media buyers leverage these numbers to get hefty discounts. The big questions are: Will media owners get higher ad rates at the negotiation table, if they had more say in the measuring process? Will they use more of their own back-end and monitoring systems to validate rates and billing systems? And, how impartial will this be?
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at advalue@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Sep 19 2007. 12 45 AM IST