New Delhi: The stand-off between India’s TV channels and the country’s only TV audience measurement company ended on Thursday with the latter agreeing to release absolute numbers of viewers—as opposed to percentages—and only once a month.
Broadcasters claim that the percentages are misleading and do not reflect any growth in viewership.
TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd said in a statement that these changes were being made only for some TV channels that had written to it, and that it would release weekly data, and percentages, for others. A TAM official, who didn’t want to be identified, said the research firm was merely responding to requests such as these and had not negotiated a settlement with the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, the lobby group of TV channels.
The head of a television network said that most mainstream channels had written to TAM. He listed Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (which operates channels including Sony, MAX, SAB and PIX), NDTV Ltd, Star India Pvt. Ltd and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, Viacom18 Pvt. Ltd (Colors, MTV and Vh1), Network18 group with its news bouquet, Times Television Network (Times Now and ET Now) as well as BAG Films and Media Ltd (which runs News 24 in Hindi).
“This is as of today. If more broadcasters write to TAM, this number, which is already close to 100 channels, may go up,” added this person who didn’t want to be identified.
Another broadcast executive, who heads an entertainment channel, said the number of channels that had written to TAM was more than 100 and that these accounted for 70-75% of the advertising on TV. This means there will be little confusion over who follows what, this person added, asking not to be identified. And soon, he said, everyone would “move to a monthly rating system”.
TAM came under pressure last month when key broadcasters stopped subscribing to its data complaining of wild and inexplicable swings. They requested monthly ratings for stability. They also asked the agency to provide audience measurements in numbers and not percentages.
Sunil Lulla, chief executive officer (CEO) of Times Television Network, offered no comment on the resolution, but said the issue was a straightforward one between a broadcaster and its measurement service. “We believe we need contemporary expression and it’s our contractual right to ask for any change,” he said.
In India, TAM is a joint venture between Nielsen (India) Pvt. Ltd and Kantar Market Research. Like other audience or readership measurement services, it is largely funded by subscription revenue from the channels themselves. Annual television advertising revenue worth Rs.14,000 crore rides on the data provided by the agency.
As the fight between TAM and the channels intensified, the research firm found support in advertisers who spend on advertising on television as well as media agencies that plan and buy air time for advertisers. Neither advertisers nor media buyers are thrilled with Thursday’s development.
“You can’t keep tweaking it (the measurement system) as if it were some small pilot study. There is big money riding on this, so any change has to be well thought through and managed,” said C.V.L. Srinivas, CEO (South Asia) at GroupM Media India Pvt. Ltd. Srinivas recommended that the matter be referred to the BARC technical committee, which had representation from everyone—broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies. BARC, or Broadcast Audience Research Council, is an alternative to TAM being developed by these stakeholders.
Mona Jain, chief operating officer at VivaKi Exchange, the media buying unit for the Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia, said she does not have faith in the monthly rating system.
Globally, ratings are analysed on a daily basis, she pointed out. “In that sense, we are moving backwards. The question will then be—how do we assess the effectiveness of, make assessments of, or even make corrections in our plans?” she asked.
Advertisers, too, aren’t very comfortable with the change.
“We are aware of this change...it is significant and has an impact on advertisers. We are evaluating and exploring our options,” said Hemant Bakshi, executive director (home and personal care) at Hindustan Unilever Ltd, and chairman (media committee) at the Indian Society of Advertisers, a grouping of companies that advertise on television. He declined to make any further comment on the matter.
“Monthly data is of not much use as we can’t track campaigns on a week to week basis and make the required changes in case the campaign is not working for us,” said Mayank Shah, group product manager at Parle Products Pvt. Ltd. He added that for advertisers who spend a significant amount of money buying media, this system is limiting.
It could well be that the matter isn’t over, as some believe.
“Things are unfolding, and meetings with advertisers are happening. There is a major war that is breaking out,” said the head of a media agency who didn’t want to be identified.