Mumbai: Looking to have a significantly larger say in how Indian television audiences are measured and quantified, advertisers and broadcasters have formally created an organization to make industry-wide suggestions and policy recommendations.

The body will have equal representation from the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), the Indian Broadcasters Federation (IBF) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA).

Pradeep Guha, CEO, Zee Telefilms Ltd

Until this development, neither AAAI nor IBF was actively involved in TV audience measurement, which is primarily done in India by TAM Media Research, a joint venture company between AC Nielsen and Kantar Media Research/IMRB. TAM’s viewership cell in India runs what is one of the largest peoplemeter TV panels in the world, with about 30,000 sample individuals representing Class I towns (with population of at least 100,000) polled every week on their viewing habits.

L.V. Krishnan, chief executive officer, TAM Media Research, declined to comment, saying he was unaware of the new association being set up.

“The genesis of this association is the BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board Ltd) model from the UK," said one broadcaster who didn’t want to be named as the new association has not yet been announced. “It’s a system where major stakeholders have a say in TV research and can commission additional peoplemeters under (TAM) or simply invite tenders from other companies. Another (goal) en route could be grading existing systems of TV measurement."

The group has been functioning informally so far, but has now decided to formalize its existence.

A formal announcement is expected shortly, said people associated with the effort. Mint could not independently ascertain the formal name of the association.

UK’s BARB was set up in 1981 to provide audience measurement services for TV broadcasters and the advertising industry. It is a non-profit limited company jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, among others.

There have been frequent ripples in the rapidly proliferating Indian television industry about the need to revitalize television measurement metrics. Broadcasters note that the 7,000 peoplemeters of TAM, across Class I towns, no longer meet all their needs.

“I think that we are standing on a plinth where legacy networks are seeing a threat from budding networks," said Amit Ray, chief strategy officer, BAG Films & Media Ltd. “Hence, the push for a revision of TV measurement from both sides. Going forward, once TV comes via multiple devices, the real challenge would begin."

“The peoplemeter panel that TAM has in this country may be the largest in the world, yet the kind of heterogeneity that exists in terms of language and culture is like no other," Ray added. “TV audiences are getting fragmented every minute. There are multi-language programmes. It is essential that we have a better spread of peoplemeters to understand audiences better. And I think that this is an industry issue that all parties must resolve. Perhaps come up with a white paper of some sort."

Said Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison Group, an advertising services firm: “I have always believed that any industry study on a part of media, should be controlled or monitored by an industry body." He declined to comment specifically on the new association.

One of the issues with existing peoplemeters has been the perceived neglect of smaller towns and rural areas, especially states such as Bihar, parts of the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since we are (only) looking at 100,000-plus towns, we are missing out a lot on rural and semi-rural areas," said Abdul Khan, vice-president, marketing, Tata Teleservices Ltd. “There are consumers there who watch television and buy products. It’s rural marketing opportunity that’s wasted. I think that it’s time a set of dispassionate observers got together and marked a few changes on the TV audience measurement map."

At Hindustan Unilever, one of the largest advertisers on television in India, in large part, the existing TV measurement systems do meet the needs of the industry for now, Welde said.

Still, “measurement in small towns and a solution for rural areas are some key gaps," he says. “With digitization and rapid technology changes, audience measurement will improve in terms of speed as well as quality of data." He, too, declined to talk about the new association.

"As a first mover, TAM has done a great job in this market," acknowledged Joy Chakraborthy, president, Zee Enterprises Ltd. “Then, again, India has vast topography, the number of households is increasing and we need rural metrics. Today, new distribution platforms have arrived and we are still waiting for the research data. Advertisers do not pay a premium to us broadcasters, even while their commercials are aired on our channels via DTH (direct-to-home) platforms, because there are no numbers that we can pledge our case with."

For its part, TAM is set to release its findings on DTH and CAS (conditional access systems) homes shortly.

“I think it’s time there was a democratic view to this," said Chakraborthy. “One that involves bodies like the IBF. In one of the fastest growing economies of the world, we have the lowest possible CPT (cost per thousand). Our ad industry is just worth $3.3 billion (Rs13,348.5 crore) annually, whereas it should be worth a lot more." Chakraborthy also said he was unaware of any new body being set up to push for measurement reforms.

“A lot of the TV viewership happens in smaller towns and rural areas, which goes unscanned," said Rohit Gupta, president for network sales, SET India Pvt. Ltd (Sony Entertainment Television).

“We barely get to a fraction of the overall universe even in urban (areas). Then, again, new technologies will hit, like IPTV and multi-platforms. I feel that, for starters, we need to cover urban areas well enough. And then think about rural and semi-rural."