IRS 2013 data suspended; findings to be revalidated

Process for revalidation of the study will be developed and will be completed by 31 March, RSCI and Mruc say

Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

New Delhi: The Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI), the body that governs the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), decided to temporarily suspend the findings of the latest IRS 2013 report up until 31 March at a meeting held on Wednesday.

“The IRS is being held in abeyance,” said a joint statement issued by the RSCI Managing Committee and the board of Media Research Users Council (Mruc), the two bodies that oversee the survey.

The move comes after a group of 18 news publishers including Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL) that publishes The Times of India, and Kasturi and Sons Ltd, publisher of The Hindu, questioned the findings.

Mint and Hindustan Times, published by HT Media Ltd, compete with the publications of BCCL in some markets.

A process for revalidation of the study will be developed and it will be completed by 31 March, the statement added. “The recommendations from this process will be incorporated in the future architecture of the IRS,” it said, and all subscribers and members will be immediately contacted by RSCI, Mruc and ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) to hold off usage of the study until the revalidation process is over.

The readership data is critical for advertisers to pick newspapers and magazines in which they want to advertise.

A committee headed by Hormusji N. Cama, chairman of RSCI, will initiate the process of revalidation, said a member of Mruc, who did not want to be named.

Paritosh Joshi, chairman of the technical committee at Mruc, maintained the decision was unanimous. “The committee will look into each of the cases and make its recommendations to RSCI by the 31st of March,” he said, adding that RSCI will make changes after the recommendations are presented. “The body will make modifications in the IRS, if necessary.”

Newspaper publishers were pleased with the decision to temporarily suspend the IRS findings.

“One hopes a truer picture will emerge from the exercise now being undertaken. This was the right thing to do in the context of the all-round scepticism over the validity of their estimates of readership,” said N. Ravi, editor-in-chief of The Hindu.

The sharp and improbable swings in readership estimates and the numerous anomalies had undermined the credibility of the survey in the eyes of newspaper establishments and advertisers alike, added Ravi.

Ravi Dhariwal, chief executive officer (CEO) at BCCL, also welcomed the move. “It’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the revalidation process will commence soon and reach its rightful conclusion so that the industry can look forward to a more accurate and better readership survey,” said Dhariwal.

However, a senior official from another media house, who did not want to be identified, said this could merely be a way to buy time up until the next readership data is out. “It’s a way for them (RSCI) to pacify publishers who had threatened to stop subscribing to their data. If publishers don’t pay, who will fund the IRS?” he asked.

Media buyers said the temporary withdrawal of the survey would not affect ad rates in the short term.

“All stakeholders getting together to address issues is always a good thing. The IRS is the only reliable currency for print. We don’t see any short-term impact (of temporary withdrawal of data) on ad revenues or ad rates, as unlike in television, the data for print is not seen on a weekly or monthly basis,”said C.V.L. Srinivas, CEO (South Asia), GroupM, a media-buying agency that is part of WPP Inc.

India’s new readership survey, which was released on 28 January, showed significant changes from the last edition of the older readership survey. Although Mruc explicitly stated that the two were not comparable owing to different methodologies, they were compared nonetheless by newspaper owners who joined forces under the aegis of the Indian Newspaper Society to protest the results.

The survey was also Nielsen’s first readership research and was more technologically advanced than the earlier studies. It used a dual-screen computerized mechanism to capture responses, had shorter questionnaires to reduce respondent fatigue, and employed the latest Census 2011 numbers for accuracy of projection.

On 1 February , members of the Indian Newspaper Society demanded a withdrawal of the survey within 24 hours at a meeting of the stakeholders in New Delhi. Mruc not only defended the quality of data, but also refused to withdraw it as well. However, it said that it would leave the final decision to RSCI.

On Wednesday, RSCI agreed to hold the data in abeyance.

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