As Indian airwaves fill up with new FM radio stations, disputes over how to measure audiences are escalating.
On 29 May, TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, known widely for its television audience measurement tools and services, launched a radio audience measurement tool called RAM. It was endorsed by a majority of radio broadcasters who had helped devise the system, and who had called for a more robust measurement system than the Indian Listenership Track (ILT), the industry standard developed by Media Research Users Council (MRUC), a representative body.
At the heart of the debate are two distinct approaches to data collection. RAM relies on the “diary” method, where listeners on its panel fill in details of what they heard on a daily basis and hand over the diary every week. ILT, whose approach to data collection its critics say is prone to mistakes, uses the “day-after recall” method, in which the listener is asked to recollect what he listened to the previous day.
ILT’s officials counter that RAM’s method is imperfect too, as unsupervised users could fill in incorrect data though RAM’s developers say spot checks will prevent that.
While the two services represent widely different approaches to data collection, the diary method has been more widely adopted globally. Most broadcasters believe that in India too, the way forward lies in diary entries.
“We got together and decided that if the industry had to grow, it required a robust audience measurement system,” said Apurva Purohit, CEO of Radio City, a unit of Music Broadcast Pvt. Ltd, referring to the other major broadcasters. “We believe that a diary method will be more robust than the day-after recall method.”
Fever 104, launched last October in Delhi, has not used ILT, which remains the only measurement system currently available. (RAM will make its data available on a weekly basis from September.) “We have done internal surveys which show that some of the existing guys are losing their share,” says S. Keerthivasan, business head of Fever 104. But the station, he concedes, has found it a challenge to convince advertisers to look beyond ILT. “We find it difficult. The good bit is that a lot of people think ILT has no credibility, but then they use ILT as a tool to negotiate.”
Fever is owned by HT Music and Entertainment Co. Ltd, a venture started by HT Media Ltd, which is also the publisher of Mint and Hindustan Times.
Sabina Solomon, general manager, MRUC, a collection of advertisers, broadcasters, ad agencies and media buyers, says that trials will start later this week to test the effectiveness of the diary method and notes that the ILT system did meet a certain need. She points out that major advertisers such as Procter & Gamble Co., the maker of Tide detergent and Pampers diapers, still support the system, as does Radio Mirchi, the radio chain by Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, the publisher of The Economic Times and The Times of India.
“We prefer an electronic panel over both ILT or diary,” says Prashant Pandey, deputy CEO, Radio Mirchi. “We believe a good electronic system should be possible in the next 12-18 months. In the interim, we would prefer the ILT. We do not like the diary method because it is outdated. Most countries are getting out of it. It ends up measuring a seven-day recall rather than the one-day recall that ILT does.”
Both MRUC and RAM officials say they will look into electronic data collection within a year, though such a measurement tool has been a bit of a holy grail for the radio industry globally.
P.R.P. Nair, senior adviser, Media Direction, an arm of advertising agency RK Swamy BBDO, who was vice-chairman of the technical subcommittee on ILT, said that both systems were discussed before one was chosen, with the support of Nielsen Co, the company that has since helped develop RAM.
“We felt then that this method would work. We felt that there was no consistency in the diary method,” says Nair.
According to TAM Media, RAM has the potential to assist advertisers with budget allocations, radio strategy and the reach of their media plans. Advertisers are familiar with TAM’s?minute-by-minute?analysis of television viewing habits of over 6,000 households across the country. However, the radio measurement will be taken in 15-minute instalments. “There’s been great demand for a service like this,” says L.V. Krishnan, CEO of TAM Media. “Everything that can be done on television will now be done on radio.”
There is a lot a stake. In terms of advertising spends, radio is the fastest growing medium in the Indian market. In 2006, ad spends on radio rose 58%—albeit on a small base—as against 52% in the case of Internet, 24% for print and 22% on television.
And a recent study by Nielsen shows that ad avoidance on the medium is the lowest at 16%, as against TV’s 44%, newspapers’ 68% and magazines’ 61%. The size of radio advertising is still quite small at around Rs500 crore but by 2009, it is likely to grow to Rs850 crore, says a joint study by industry lobby Ficci and PricewaterhouseCoopers.