Mumbai: Advertisers who have long questioned the efficacy of audience measurement systems in the country now want them to measure viewership across various delivery platforms such as CAS (conditional access system, using set-top units), DTH (direct-to-home), and IPTV (internet protocol television).
“It’s quite clear that both (CAS/DTH/IPTV and non-CAS) will co-exist. It’s necessary to establish measurement tools that can track these newer technologies as well as offer depth in measurement,” says Shyam Shanker, president, India Media Exchange, which handles media buying responsibilities for Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia in India.
The existing measurement systems, advertisers say, are not representative enough. While the measurement agencies insist that the system is robust, advertisers are not convinced that a system of around 13,000 people meters (which record viewership habits of a particular household) in a country that has an estimated 112 million television households constitutes a representative sample.
Two agencies measure TV audience in India: TAM Media Research (TAM) which has installed 6,917 people meters, and Audience Measurement and Analytics Pvt. Ltd (aMap), which has 6,000 people meters. These meters have been installed in households in cities and towns that have a population of 100,000 and above. And that, experts say, leaves out small cities and towns, not to mention rural areas. Besides, both agencies cover the same ground. “There has been a duplication of effort as both companies have installed meters in pretty much the same areas, when the need of the hour is to set up a network of people meters across all segments that include rural areas, small cities and towns as well as elite areas,” says Lynn de Souza, director, media service, Lintas India Pvt. Ltd.
The already-deficient system has come under further pressure due to dramatic changes in broadcasting technology. In addition to terrestrial and cable TV, India now has DTH transmission and IPTV. While the Essel Group, promoted by Subhash Chandra, launched its DTH platform in 2003, two others—Tata Sky and DD Plus—have joined in last year. Two more DTH services are being planned. At present, there are more than 2.2 million DTH subscribers in India.
IPTV is picking up at a slower rate. There are currently 9,000 IPTV subscribers, according to research agency Interactive Data Co. The inclusion of DTH and IPTV audience has created new challenges for audience measurement firms. Ratings agencies, however, claim their measurement technology can handle new platforms. “TAM has platform-neutral people meters,” says spokesman Siddhartha Mukherjee. “We had prepared for it a while ago as we knew that the industry will move from an analogue mode to a digital mode.”
The platform-neutral meter, TVM5, was launched in 2006. While TAM did not disclose how many TVM5s were in use, it maintained that most tracked viewership habits of elite audiences. aMap, on the other hand, is yet to take any specific steps for tracking these new technologies. Ravi Dixit, director, research and knowledge management, aMap, says technologies to measure audiences evolve “simultaneously with the evolution of new platforms”. Most media buying agencies are yet to create separate media plans for these new platforms. While they distinguish between terrestrial and cable TV in their media planning, they are still to factor in the consumer profiles of DTH and IPTV homes.
“Being technology neutral, the new people meters will measure all intervention whether it is CAS, DTH or IPTV. The problem, however, starts when you start splitting that universe into segments. Each of these new technologies is not adequately represented. By the end of the year, we may even be able to start using the figures for CAS homes, once we have a good sample size,” says Gowthaman Ragothaman, managind director at media agency Mindshare.
Currently, the size of the DTH/IPTV audience is still too small to make a difference. Says Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison Communications Pvt. Ltd, “The measurement of audiences will start happening after these technologies have achieved a certain scale.”
Among the few agencies that are looking at platform-specific media plans is Starcom MediaVest Group, which says its efforts are stymied by the lack of accurate data on viewership. “We are still trying to understand how the new platforms will be adopted by consumers,” says Ravi Kiran, CEO, South Asia, Starcom MediaVest. “Until Tata Sky was launched, DTH was mainly limited to rural markets and markets with no access to cable and satellite TV,” he adds.
While the number of TV households in India is expected to grow to 130 million by 2012, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that DTH will account for less than a tenth of this number and IPTV less than a hundredth.
Gouri Shah contributed to this story.