Mumbai: The fight between broadcasters and advertisers over TV ratings has intensified with the larger Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) throwing its weight behind the News Broadcasters Association’s demand for monthly, instead of weekly, ratings.

The demand is opposed by the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

People watching TV. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

The demand of the industry bodies representing TV channels is ostensibly driven by their stated desire to focus on better-quality programmes— across genres, TV channels in India have been at the receiving end of criticism in recent months for everything ranging from sensationalism to vulgarity—but advertisers fear that the absence of weekly ratings information will limit their ability to decide where to advertise and where not to depending on the popularity of programmes.

Both sides have threatened TAM with the prospect of an alternative ratings organization.

Advertisers spent 10,300 crore on TV ads in India in 2010 and are expected to spend 11,800 crore this year, according to a report released by industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and audit firm KPMG. The total advertising business in India (including print, online, radio, and outdoor) was 26,600 crore in 2010.

In an 7 October email reply to TAM chief executive L.V. Krishnan, who had broached the idea of monthly ratings, ISA said that while broadcasters are free to use monthly ratings data, members of ISA will continue to use weekly ratings data. The body also asked Krishnan to move to daily real-time ratings data and threatened that should TAM move to monthly ratings, it would have no option but to create an alternative ratings measurement organization.

Meanwhile, IBF has commissioned one of TAM’s parents, Nielsen Co., to do a TV viewership pilot in two states of India. Details are sketchy, with most IBF officials declining to comment on the pilot study.

One who finally agreed to speak on condition of anonymity said the pilot “is more like a television baseline study, in which we come to know what the universe is and what the required sample should be". This person added that the pilot doesn’t fall under the Broadcast Audience Research Council, a body set up by IBF to handle ratings studies that is yet to start operating. “Though in time, if it takes off, the Broadcast Audience Research Council is free to bring this research under its ambit."

Executives at TAM and IBF were not available for comment despite several attempts to reach them over phone and email.

Advertising agencies are also not in favour of moving to a monthly ratings system.

Nagesh Alai, director at Draftfcb Advertising Pvt. Ltd, and president, Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), said there is no logic behind the IBF-NBA combine rooting for monthly ratings. “Obviously, when there are large advertising outlays involved, clients need to know whether they are getting value for their buck. AAAI respects the commercial relationship that TAM has with the IBF, but we are not involved in that. Advertisers and agencies need weekly ratings. "

ISA is a body of companies that advertise, and AAAI is a body of advertising and media buying agencies.

The attempt to move to monthly ratings is regressive, said R. Gowthaman, leader, Mindshare South Asia. Everywhere else, he added, people are moving to real-time data.

That’s the same point made by WFA. Global best practices in measurement call for daily, not even weekly reporting, said Stephan Loerke, managing director of the body.

Loerke added that it is unlikely that moving to a monthly ratings system would help channels improve their content. “As far as we are aware, there are no other examples in the world of a country where frequency of reporting television audience data has been linked to unacceptable programme content."

There are other ways to tackle the quality of content, said Bharat Patel, chairman, ISA. Peru, he explained, has a so-called “ethical traffic lights" process where independent observers evaluate TV shows on parameters such as truthfulness and human dignity. “For instance, if a show is rated red—irrespective of high viewership, advertisers voluntarily avoid the programme because it also has a negative rub-off on the brands advertised."

Patel added that India’s peers in the developing world, including Brazil, have already moved to real-time ratings.

The opposition of the broadcast body to weekly ratings doesn’t seem to reflect the views of all its members. Rohit Gupta, president (network sales, licensing and telephony) of Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd, which owns the Sony and SET Max channels, said he is happy with the current weekly ratings system. “As a network, we’ve never had a knee-jerk reaction to ratings. It’s not week the ratings are down and we’ve had to overhaul our programming."