IRS a must to reignite confidence in print

Critical to advertisers, readership data is the currency on the basis of which they decide which print publications to advertise in


The share of print in overall advertising expenditure has been coming down over the years. This is all the more reason why studies like IRS should be supported. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The share of print in overall advertising expenditure has been coming down over the years. This is all the more reason why studies like IRS should be supported. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

There has been an unprecedented delay in the release of the much-awaited print media measurement study, the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), which is jointly published by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI). The fieldwork for the survey was supposed to start in December 2015 but it eventually took off in full blast only in November 2016 after a few corrective steps were incorporated.

Critical to advertisers, readership data is the currency on the basis of which they decide which print publications to advertise in.

Unfortunately, the fieldwork for IRS is still not over. It is expected to be completed by Q3 2017 and results are likely to be in by the last quarter of 2017. This means that the Indian print media industry will see a four-year gap between the last survey and the new one. To be sure, the last survey was released in January 2014 (its fieldwork was conducted in 2013) and became immediately controversial with several big newspaper publishers—especially those who saw their readership decline—rejecting its findings. The data that was republished in August 2014 was cold-shouldered as were the next round of IRS numbers published in March 2015.

However, finally, MRUC and RSCI managed to bring all the stakeholders to the table to agree to a fresh survey. “The delay was caused as it was difficult to get people to come around and then invest in the research,” says C.V.L Srinivas, chairman at RSCI. Srinivas is also the chief executive of media agency GroupM.

If all goes well, the print industry will have richer and deeper research as the new survey promises to be better. To effectively cover the country, its sample size at 330,000 respondents is 40% bigger than the sample size of IRS 2013. In terms of methodology, while the basic format of the questionnaire and the implementation remains the same, there have been significant improvements in terms of the actual data capturing through advance technology.

“The entire data security system has also undergone a serious upgrade, with higher levels of involvement from the supervisory teams on ground, third-party checks by an independent auditor as well as field visits by MRUC secretariat,” says Srinivas.

He claims that the new IRS promises tougher security measures to ensure that fieldwork is not compromised. “RSCI, MRUC and ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) members have been working together to ensure a robust readership currency accepted by the industry,” he adds.

The new round of research will also tap new-age consumer trends and product category usage. Although print is the lead focus of the survey, detailed information on online audience behaviour, such as purpose of accessing Internet and the activities performed online (shopping/banking /mobile wallets usage, etc.) will also be available.

Mobile usage and Internet access through mobile devices are also being covered which include mobile apps, downloading and watching videos and TV programmes. Online readership of publications will also be covered as will the listenership of FM radio through mobile devices.

The complete study will be ready for release in Q4 2017 after due validation of data. However, a broad overview of topline trends should be available by Q3 2017.

To be sure, print industry, advertisers and the ad agencies have all been working without a readership survey which is current. People in the business may have been extrapolating numbers from the earlier surveys which may not be the best option. Especially so in view of the challenges print is facing. The share of print in overall advertising expenditure has been coming down over the years. This is all the more reason why studies like IRS should be supported. “Agencies are under tremendous pressure from clients to prove that their media plans deliver positive impact. If readership data doesn’t exist for an extended period of time, media planners will find it difficult to justify print advertising,” says Srinivas.

As per the latest advertising forecast by GroupM through its report This Year Next Year 2017, print ad revenue is growing at 4.5%. According to estimates from Publicis Media India’s chief executive Anupriya Acharya, print media is growing at 6-8%, largely driven by regional dailies, which are seeing an expansion of circulation and readership. “English print advertising is growing on the back of innovative formats, even though readership is flat or declining in some cases,” says Acharya.

That is not all. Digital media is impacting print as well. “As far as younger audiences go, we clearly find that the habit development (of reading) is not taking place as far as print is concerned. Digital clearly is growing and at the cost of both print and television ad revenues,” she adds.

In such a scenario, the case for IRS cannot be overemphasised. The need for IRS is urgent, says Acharya, adding that apart from readership, it also tracks many other variables like demographics and product ownership. “Print is and will continue to be an important part of consumer targeting and hence advertising,” she says. Agrees Srinivas: “There is no reason why print shouldn’t be growing at a higher rate. The study will bring more confidence back into print.”

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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