TV ratings system set for a shake-up

Broadcast Audience Research Council ties up with France’s Mediametrie to set up TAM alternative; possibility of blackout period causes concern


The new guidelines for television ratings agencies, notified by the government on 16 January, disqualify TAM Media Research from operating in India. Photo: Mint
The new guidelines for television ratings agencies, notified by the government on 16 January, disqualify TAM Media Research from operating in India. Photo: Mint

Mumbai: The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) on Monday announced a partnership with French media research firm Mediametrie to set up an alternative television audience measurement system.

The announcement marks an important step towards putting in place a reliable system by October, but advertising and broadcasting executives raised a red flag on the possibility of a ratings-dark period between the launch of the new viewership measuring system and the cessation of data from TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, which has provided the ratings for at least the past decade.

The new guidelines for television ratings agencies, notified by the government on 16 January, disqualify TAM Media Research from operating in India. TAM Media Research is a joint venture between Kantar Market Research and Nielsen (India) Pvt. Ltd.

“Our technical committee and the management had scouted the global marketplace for suitable technology and we are happy with our choice. We will take a quantum jump in technology for audience measurement in the country with this,” said Punit Goenka, referring to Mediametrie.

Goenka, the chief executive of the Zee group, is chairman of Barc, a joint industry body of broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies and their apex bodies that was set up at the behest of the government after frequent complaints about inconsistencies in TAM data.

Addressing the media in Mumbai, Goenka made it clear that while there would be hiccups in the interim period, the industry was likely to migrate to data provided by Barc from October and that it was unlikely that anyone would subscribe to data from another rating agency—presenting the prospect of a new monopoly replacing an existing one.

“Obviously, as per the guidelines there can be as many players as there want to be. But given that this is a joint industry body with three stakeholders who get impacted or who need these TV ratings, why would they buy a competing system? I can say this confidently for the broadcasters, at least, that we will subscribe to Barc and only Barc.”

Shashi Sinha, chairman of the technical committee of Barc, admitted that it was going to be tough but said Barc was confident of meeting the October deadline.

Meanwhile, the government’s guidelines came in for criticism from Kantar Media. “Most reputable” organizations would not be able to comply with the guidelines said Eric Salama, chairman and CEO of Kantar. The new rules bar any single entity from having paid-up equity in excess of 10% simultaneously in both a ratings agency and a broadcaster, advertiser or advertising agency.

Over the past few years, TAM has been criticized by several broadcasters over a small sample size, and allegedly compromised data. News broadcaster NDTV Ltd even slapped a case against TAM in a New York court that was later dismissed.

Broadcasters say that TAM’s sample size is not large enough to represent the diverse viewing habits in urban and rural India. Kantar Media, in an advertisement in Indian newspapers, claimed that TAM has 9,600 peoplemeters installed across 225 cities.

In January 2013, TAM included towns with a population of less than 100,000 in five regions in an effort that it claimed made it possible to cover 92% of urban Hindi-speaking markets, up from the earlier 74%.

The expanded sample resulted in lower ratings for some channels and led to more complaints.

Barc hopes its partnership with Mediametrie will address these issues. The partnership with the French firm is for technology services and licensing for the proposed television audience measurement system. Under the arrangement, spanning six years, Mediametrie will provide technological know-how and licenses to Barc to use its TV metering system. It will also help Barc procure its own metering hardware. Much like Barc, Mediametrie is owned by advertisers and broadcasters. Its technology is used in three markets, France, Morocco and the Netherlands.

“We will provide them the technology to create an Indian version of our metre which has been customized for this market, not just in the cost aspect. For instance, the metre has a man-machine interface, and we will be sending messages in 19 different languages. Eventually, it will be the cheapest metre with the best technology,” said Gwilherm Nicolas, director, international business, Mediametrie.

Goenka refused to comment on the investment required to put this system in place. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation will invest 60% while the Indian Society of Advertisers and the Advertising Agencies Association of India will invest 20% each.

On paper, the new ratings venture, which aims to have 25,000 TV meters in place across 20,000 households, promises to be far superior to the existing system that TAM has in place.

“It’s very high quality technology, which allows you (to measure) multiple screens from TV to mobiles and tablets; it allows you to track and capture the simulcast of content on different platforms; (it helps you) capture data on delayed viewing. So there are multiple advantages of this system, not to mention the fact that it is also cheap and therefore far more economically viable and sustainable,” added Sinha.

While Mediametrie will provide the technology, Barc is in the process of announcing its partners for other aspects of the ratings process, including panel management, which involves selection of households and installation of metres that will monitor their viewership patterns.

TAM is a bidder for this, Sinha said, by way of explaining that Barc is not biased against the agency.

Barc will also ensure that the data can’t be compromised in any way, Sinha said. There have been several allegations in the past that broadcasters aware of the identity of the households in which the meters were installed were manipulating the system.

“There has been a lot of problems with panel management in the past, with interference. In this case the interference won’t happen because the data will come through GSM, you will not have to go pick up the data from there. The metres will throw the data back to the server through GSM lines, there is no physical tracking and the failure rate is very low for the metres. So the data going through multiple people will be avoided,” Sinha added. GSM is India’s dominant mobile technology platform.

Meanwhile, broadcasters and advertisers have urged the government to extend the 30-day deadline given to TAM to adhere to the guidelines to six months, so that the ratings are not discontinued, especially during the peak election period when viewership and advertising are expected to look up.

“From broadcasters’ and advertisers’ point of view any kind of blackout is not good for the industry. In any kind of change there must be a smooth transition,” said Raj Nayak, chief executive officer at Colors, the Hindi entertainment channel of Viacom18.

Still, it is possible that there may be no ratings for some time.

“A ratings-dark period may happen. In which case, we will have to fall back on past data to navigate through those few months. It may be three, four or even six months. First October is the timeline for Barc (data) and I am sure TAM has recourse from a law point of view to go to the government or go to court. I am sure they will go through all the processes,” said Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer, Star India.

Gupta added that the new ratings system would be better than the current one because it would have a larger sample and its so-called watermarking technology would “allow measurement of content in real-time and on all devices including mobile phones and tablets.”

On Monday, Kantar published an advertisement in Indian newspapers touting the features of TAM‘s ratings system.

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