Mumbai: Some 13 years after it was founded, the Media Research Users Council (MRUC), a non-profit body that conducts and validates media research, may finally be headed for a rapprochement with the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), the representative body of print media in the country.
If so, it could have significant impact on the relevance and importance of the two rival readership surveys conducted in India to measure newspaper and magazine readers. Such surveys are then used by advertisers as a basis for their spending and by the newspapers and magazines themselves for bragging rights as well as setting ad rates.
INS has now asked for the inclusion of six of its representatives in MRUC’s print technical committee, which monitors the council’s readership surveys.
There are two competing readership surveys in India, MRUC’s Indian Readership Survey (IRS) and the National Readership Survey (NRS) conducted by the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC), which is run by representatives from the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), a body of advertisers and media companies that oversees circulation audits, and INS itself.
MRUC was founded in 1994 to address a growing feeling among advertisers that it did not make sense to only go by a readership survey that was partly controlled by print media companies and concerns about the validity of some of the data.
As a result, relations between MRUC and INS have been strained in the past, usually over the findings of IRS.
INS’ newfound interest in MRUC is being seen by some media experts as a sign of the print media body’s growing disillusionment with NRS. INS has, until now, supported and funded NRS.
However, last year, several companies that are part of INS believed there were discrepancies in NRS numbers. NRS eventually had to publish the corrected numbers. The NRS survey has been conducted by research firm ACNielsen ORG-MARG Pvt. Ltd for the past few years.
“The IRS could emerge as the credible (and) accepted currency for print readership and in the long term this could have an impact on the funding of NRS and the possibility of INS pulling out of the NRSC,” said a media expert familiar with the development, who did not wish to be identified.
“Till some time back, the INS was not even willing to recognize the MRUC. But the NRS, backed by the INS, has come under such criticism in recent times that the INS could be looking to shift loyalties. Why back and fund research that most people don’t want to buy?” asked the head of a print media company, who did not wish to be identified.
The six INS representatives being suggested for the MRUC committee are Gargi Ojha from The Statesman Ltd, Rahul Kansal from Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd, Pralay Nanda from Lokmat Group, Pankaj Jha from HT Media Ltd (which also publishes Mint), Ravi Shankar from Dinamalar Publications Ltd and Peter Suresh from Dainik Bhaskar Group.
“This is the first time that the INS has made a formal request for inclusion into the technical committee. Earlier on, the INS had some issues with the data released in the last round of the IRS. We made a presentation to them on 24 May. This is when they requested us if they could recommend six names on the technical committee. We were delighted,” said Roda Mehta, chairperson, MRUC technical committee.
The presence of their representatives on the technical committee will give media companies a larger say in running IRS.
Members of the INS had reason to object to the findings of the last round of IRS, released in 2007, which showed falling readership figures even as circulations increased.
Although individual representatives from media companies have been part of the technical committee, this is the first time that INS itself has expressed interest in being part of it.
“This was the first time that, as a body, INS made a formal request for inclusion,” said Mehta.
Paresh Nath, deputy president of the INS and publisher of the Delhi Press Group, insisted that INS isn’t at “loggerheads with MRUC”, but that the body had some problems with readership surveys in general, such as the fact that they are getting more skewed towards television, and product and consumer research.
He added that the MRUC’s workings are “fairly confidential” and that while the research body usually invited people to be part of the technical committee, “this time around, the INS said that it would propose its own set of names; people who would be more responsive to the industry’s needs”.
Nath was quick to add that INS’ involvement with MRUC does not come at the cost of its relationship with NRS. “There is no change. We will continue to back the NRS,” he said.
NRS technical committee chairman Sam Balsara, who is also the chairman and managing director of Madison Group, said he would like not to comment since this development is not related to NRS.
“The INS is an independent body. Whether they support the IRS, or the NRS or both, that’s a decision best left to them,” said Arvind Sharma, a member on the board of MRUC and chairman of Leo Burnett Advertising Pvt. Ltd.
The six INS representatives are part of the technical committee that will look at IRS (called the IRS technical committee); apart from this, MRUC has formed a separate technical committee for magazines.
According to a member of MRUC, who did not wish to be identified, the body is evaluating a separate study for magazines.
Amit Ray, chief strategy officer of BAG Films & Media Ltd, is the joint chairman of the technical committee for print. Mubin Khan, director (business development) from Optimum Media Solutions, the media arm of the Mudra Group, is the vice-chairman for IRS, and Manas Mishra, general manager of Mediaedge:cia, GroupM Media India Pvt. Ltd, is the vice chairman for magazines.
In a separate development, the MRUC is also considering entering the radio electronic measurement business in an attempt to take on TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd’s RAM (radio audience measurement) weekly ratings, senior media specialists said.
The MRUC plans to develop an indigenous prototype research tool for India, rather than adopting international formats. Mehta said that the effort is at the research stage.
“MRUC is exploring other options for radio, one of them being electronic measurement. But no agency or company has been briefed for any pilot on this score,” added MRUC chairman G. Krishnan, CEO of TV Today Network Ltd.