New Delhi/Mumbai: Unhappy with the small sample size of television viewership ratings provided by the independent firm TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, the broadcast industry has revived plans to set up its own Broadcast Audience Research Council, or BARC, to offer alternative ratings.
The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), which represents general entertainment channels, said it will soon commission a study of the number of television viewing households across India and divide them into categories based on income levels.
This data will form the basis on which future viewership trends will be measured, IBF president Jawahar Goel told Mint. A tender for the Rs6-8 crore project will soon be issued and the research agency will be selected on the basis of financial and technical bids, he said.
Advertising worth Rs11,000 crore depends on these ratings, as they help advertisers decide which channels, and what time slots, to advertise on. Advertisements are the primary source of revenue for television channels.
Broadcasting industry executives, advertisers and cable television distributors proposed setting up BARC during a recent meeting in New Delhi with officials from the information and broadcasting ministry, including minister Ambika Soni.
The minister asked the industry stakeholders about the time frame they had in mind for setting up BARC, Goel said. The industry, he added, is ready with the articles of memorandum for BARC, which will be registered under section 25 of the Companies Act.
BARC is being mooted because the number of people meters—box-like devices used to measure TV viewing preferences of a family—installed by TAM was too small to offer reliable ratings, said a senior television executive.
“The 7,000 boxes across 160 towns are simply not representative enough. Also, cable operators get to know where the boxes are installed and charge higher carriage fees, paralyzing the broadcasters,” he said on condition of anonymity.
TAM chief executive L.V. Krishnan could not be reached for comments.
A TAM spokesperson had earlier told Mint the agency uses 8,000 peoplemeters and, since 2009, had spread to towns in Maharashtra with populations below 100,000.
The idea of setting up an industry-led peoplemeter system was first proposed two years ago. But it didn’t go too far after Pradeep Guha, who was spearheading the project, stepped down as chief executive of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.
The broadcast executive quoted above said advertisers did not require the weekly ratings offered by TAM. “Such ratings bring distortions in programming behaviour and lead to reactive programming,” he said.
The Indian Readership Survey, which measures the readership of print publications, comes out twice a year. That’s sufficient for print buys, the executive said.
Advertisers are divided over the idea of a second television ratings agency. Srikanth Raman, general manger of Starcom MediaVest, said standard ratings form a single source worked best for the industry.
“You can’t deal in pounds one day and decide that it’s dollars the next day. That’s what is happening with television,” he said.
Most market research products, he added, face criticism from stakeholders. “But you can’t just migrate from one research product to another,” he said.
Raman also pointed out that TAM had been conducting television research for 8-10 years. It must not be blamed every time a broadcaster’s ratings dip, he said.
But Lynn de Souza, chairperson and chief executive, Lintas Media Group, defended IBF’s move to revive BARC. Broadcasters and other stakeholders owned research data in most countries, she said.
“The problem (in India) is that we are at the mercy of the research companies. We can recommend changes as customers, but we don’t own the data,” she said.
After the BARC plan was first announced in 2008, TAM had claimed it had increased its sample size and introduced a digital sample. “But at the end of the day, these are just claims and (are) not ratified by a third party,” de Souza said. “And that’s the main issue.”