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New audience measurement initiatives face stumbling blocks

New audience measurement initiatives face stumbling blocks

Mumbai: New readership and audience measurement surveys that are critical for the print and television industry’s advertising revenue have been set back as the media tries to ride out the economic slowdown.

The National Readership Studies Council (NRSC) has hit a wall in terms of funding after Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), India’s biggest newspaper publisher, declined to contribute its Rs2.5 crore share for a readership survey being revived after three years, according to three publishers who didn’t want to be identified. Various other publishers are also yet to formally agree on funding the NRSC’s National Readership Study (NRS), contending that they are paying much less for the competing Indian Readership Survey (IRS), conducted by the non-profit Media Research Users Council (MRUC).

Readership and audience measurement surveys are crucial for the media because most advertising decisions— and rates—are based on survey data. Ad rates and revenue for publications are currently pegged on readership figures shown by the IRS.

The media has been hit by fallout from the economic downturn that has caused domestic and external demand to slow and turned the taps off on funding for many industries. India’s economy is forecast by the government to have grown 7.1% in the fiscal year ended 31 March the slowest pace in six years.

NRSC has representatives from the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), which is a body of advertisers and media companies that oversees circulation audits, and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS).

The NRS was conducted earlier by AC Nielsen ORG-Marg Pvt. Ltd, but was discontinued because of discrepancies in readership figures. Research agency Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd, which earlier conducted the rival IRS, appears to be on the verge of getting the contract to handle new rounds of the NRS, according to the publishers.

Hansa has asked for Rs10 crore of funding for the new study, according to the publishers. The study will have a higher representation of well-to-do households, often the key targets for marketers.

AC Nielsen ORG-Marg and IMRB International are the other research agencies that have pitched for the NRS.

Hansa did not comment on its proposal to NRSC. On the matter concerning BCCL, Hansa Research managing director Ashok Das said in an email: “We have no information on which publication pays how much and the status on this issue. Only NRSC would be privy to such information."

Because BCCL is the main contributor to the funding corpus, NRSC is now reworking the fee asked from the firm, according to the publishers.

BCCL, which publishes The Times of India and The Economic Times, competes with HT Media Ltd, which publishes Mint and the Hindustan Times.

“The Times of India’s stand is that they are paying Rs21 lakh for the IRS. They say that they don’t mind paying for the NRS if it’s going to be a more robust survey; but the amount specified currently is not justified," said INS president Hormusji N. Cama, director of Bombay Samachar Pvt. Ltd.

NRSC is working out a costing plan for the new NRS that would be fair to all, he added. An HT Media official, who didn’t want to be named, said the company would be paying whatever amount is required of it for the survey.

Each publication’s contribution to the survey is decided on the basis of so-called ad card rates—rates defined by publishing houses for ads that they carry. Cama said because the card rates of The Times of India have risen over time, BCCL has to pick up the bulk of the tab for the new research.

BCCL executive president Bhaskar Das, director Sujoy Ghosh, and Rahul Kansal, brand director, The Times of India, declined to comment. Times Group CEO Ravi Dhariwal did not respond to an email sent by Mint.

But a senior executive at The Times of India, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Why would we want to commit this kind of money if we are not even sure it (NRS) is going to be used as a currency by media buyers?"

Sam Balsara, chairman of NRSC, and chairman and managing director of the Madison Group, was not available for comment.

Still, some publishers are clearly looking for an alternative to the IRS, which they have long maintained has its share of lacunae, including misleading readership figures. Magazine publishers have said the IRS doesn’t capture readership in emerging urban areas.

Malcolm D. Mistry, publishing director of India Today Group, says it has talked with MRUC on topics such as reducing the questionnaire length and interview time and capturing some qualitative parameters in readership. “The suggestions have always been taken to be studied but there has been no action…," he says.

Meanwhile, television audience measurement is also seeing delays in new initiatives because of the economic downturn. The Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) was formed in September 2007 by representatives of the Indian Society of Advertisers, AAAI and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation to help better measure television audiences.

The body was supposed to have asked for bids from different research companies to usher in new TV measurement metrics last year. The executive board has, however, not met in the last four months and the initiative is on the back burner.

“Developmental work for the industry has taken a hit because of the economic climate," says Chintamani Rao, chairman of Barc. “Obviously everyone has their own priorities." He adds that Barc will re-group shortly and decide on a way forward.

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