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Mumbai: India’s new readership survey, released Tuesday, showed significant changes from the last edition of the older readership survey—the two are not comparable because of changes in methodology—and not everyone was happy with the results.

According to the study, which measures readership of publications and is used as a currency by advertisers for their media plans, India has 281.7 million newspaper readers.

The survey was jointly commissioned by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and the Research Studies Council of India (RSCI), and carried out by market research firm The Nielsen Co. The field work for the survey was conducted between July and December 2013.

Nielsen covered a sample of more than 235,000 households across urban and rural India, and based its study on the 2011 Census of India instead of Census 2001 that the older readership survey used.

Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World, said the methodology was more important than the rankings and the findings of the survey that created a flutter among media companies.

“Collection of data through the Net with (as) little human intervention as possible should lead to much greater reliability. One of the issues with any large-scale field research, especially in media, is that at the investigator level there could be a lot of fudging and filling in questionnaires. A very serious attempt has been made to minimize this through technology and will result in far more robust data. Whether this results in change in ranking and rating is not important," he said.

“What is, is the fact that we have a true situation of the market."

That situation reflected several changes from the last edition of the old survey. For instance, the list of top 10 publications by average issue readership (or AIR, the number of people who claim to have read the publication within a time period equal to the periodicity of the publication preceding the day of interview) has seen a significant churn. Hindi daily Hindustan, published by Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd, a subsidiary of Mint’s publisher HT Media Ltd, is the new No.2, with a readership of 14.25 million, overtaking Dainik Bhaskar, published by D.B. Corp. Ltd, and Tamil daily Daily Thanthi has moved up smartly to No.5.

Dainik Jagran remained No.1, but saw its readership fall from 16.37 million to 15.53 million.

“The readership numbers from the much-anticipated, all-new, supposedly improved, readership survey are in. However, there are serious differences between ground realities and what the findings would like us to believe. We have serious concerns with the findings," said Shailesh Gupta, director, Jagran Prakashan Ltd.

Among English-language dailies, The Times of India continued to hold top position, but saw a decline in readership from 7.62 million to 7.24 million. Hindustan Times, also published by HT Media, held its ground at No.2, and saw a rise in readership—from 3.8 million in October to December 2012 to 4.3 million in July to December 2013.

There were two new entrants into the list of top 10 English dailies—Mid-day, also published by Jagran Prakashan, with a readership of 500,000, and Deccan Herald, with 458,000 AIR. DNA and The New Indian Express dropped out of the Top 10.

Among business dailies, the ranking order remained unchanged. The Economic Times remained the most read with a readership of 722,000, down from 735,000. Mint saw a 41% increase in readership to 310,000. Business Standard remained No.3 with a readership of 145,000, down from 166,000.

An executive at Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, which publishes The Times of India and The Economic Times, said it was difficult to comment on individual numbers, but added that the survey seemed to be based on a sound methodology. “The new methodology is certainly much more robust. It has made the whole process far more tamper-proof and secured it against the vagaries of poor field work," said Rahul Kansal, executive president, Bennet Coleman.

HT Media’s chief executive officer Rajiv Verma said the survey “settles once and for all, our strong position as the clear No.2 newspaper nationally with Hindustan, and as the clear No.2 in Mumbai with Hindustan Times knocking strongly on the doors of No.1 in just eight years."

The Times of India has a readership of 2.15 million in Mumbai, according to the survey, and Hindustan Times, 1.36 million. In Delhi-NCR, Hindustan Times has a readership of 2.27 million and The Times of India, 1.65 million.

In terms of technology, the new survey relied on double-screen CAPI (computer-assisted personal interviewing) and data fusion, which helped shrink the interview time from 90 minutes to 30 minutes, thereby reducing both interviewer as well as respondent fatigue.

Also, unlike the earlier surveys which would ask respondents if they had consumed a certain media in the last six month to a year, the new readership survey reduced the usage period to a month.

“We wanted a realistic picture of how people were consuming media and not some fantasy picture. The research must reveal data that is not just usable but also credible. And credibility comes from defining things in a way that they genuinely relate to our everyday life," said Paritosh Joshi, chairman of the Indian Readership Survey technical committee, and principal at consulting firm Provocateur Advisor.

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