New Delhi: Guidelines approved by the cabinet to govern the functioning of television rating agencies have the potential to disrupt the system of measuring TV viewership, but in the long term will help bring greater transparency and accuracy to the process of monitoring and rating broadcasters, industry executives and experts said on Friday.
The guidelines, unveiled on Thursday, prevent any single entity from having paid-up equity in excess of 10% simultaneously in both a rating agency and a broadcaster, advertiser or advertising agency.
That requirement would disqualify TAM Media Research, the current TV rating agency, which is a 50:50 joint venture between Nielsen (India) Pvt. Ltd and Kantar Media Research, a unit of London-based advertising company WPP Plc.
“TAM will cease to exist in its current form," said Satyajit Sen, chief executive of ZenithOptimedia, the media buying agency of the Omnicom Publicis Group. “However it could become a third-party member in the compilation of TRP (television rating point) data from the logistics side of things."
A statement issued by the government on Thursday gave 30 days’ time for complying with the change; any non-compliance would lead to forfeiture of two bank guarantees worth ₹ 1 crore furnished by the company in the first instance. If the requirement is found not to be met again, the registration of the agency would be cancelled.
TAM Media Research, which has rated Indian broadcasters for the past 15 years, declined to comment on the guidelines and their impact.
Another media expert said the industry could be left without an audience measurement agency for a time before the guidelines are met or a new agency takes over the job of rating broadcasters and their programmes.
“Of course, in the short term, it is quite possible that there might not be a rating agency," said this person, who didn’t want to be named. “Long term, this development is what the industry—broadcasters, advertisers, media buyers—wanted."
The absence of an audience measurement agency, whose ratings are used by advertisers to decide which channels they should run commercials on, could affect the ad revenue of broadcasters. According to previously published estimates by media agency GroupM, ₹ 16,525 crore worth of advertising on Indian TV channels in 2012 was decided on the basis of TAM numbers.
“We hope this does not lead to a disruption of the TV measurement system. Any such disruption is bound to negatively impact ad spends on TV," said C.V.L. Srinivas, chief executive (South Asia) at GroupM.
The government, in a bid to avoid this situation, has called an urgent meeting with the board members of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) on 16 January. BARC is an industry body tasked with introducing a new TV audience measurement system.
TAM Media Research has in the past been involved in a row with Indian broadcasters—both entertainment and news channels—over the agency’s data, which the channels maintained was inaccurate and flawed.
“Basic tenets of measurement were not being followed in how ratings were being reported. It’s not that capability is an issue, the people at TAM are quite capable," said the media expert cited above.
BARC has shortlisted five media research agencies to advise it on the technology required to put in place an accurate and reliable system, Mint reported on 16 August. TAM did not make it to the shortlist.
“BARC is on track with its plans. We are targeting September to start operations officially. We will meet all the guidelines approved by the government," said Shashi Sinha, a member of BARC.
Other guidelines unveiled by the government require TV rating agencies to monitor a minimum number of 20,000 homes for collecting viewership data and for the number to increase progressively until it reaches 50,000. TAM monitors 9,602 TV-viewing households.
Broadcasters say a larger panel size was needed for a more accurate assessment of viewership data.
“These guidelines are excellent. It’s about time that we had very strict regulations on the kind of rating systems we have," said K.V.L. Narayan Rao, president of the News Broadcasters’ Association and NDTV group’s executive vice-chairperson.
“The need for a large panel size has been our complaint for a long time; the panel size that exists needs to be a more robust number of around 30,000. Till then there will be issues around lack of accuracy of data," he said.
On the likelihood of a hiatus in the system of compiling TV rating points, Rao said: “I personally believe that no data is better than bad data."
Lawyers are, meanwhile, circumspect about the legal implications of these guidelines.
“The recent ministry of information and broadcasting guidelines state that the registration is mandatory; however, existing rating agencies have been given a 30-day period to comply. During this 30-day period, the ownership of rating agencies has to be structured in compliance with the guidelines," said Apar Gupta, a lawyer who works on media issues.
Gupta suggested that the nature of guidelines was such that it may lead to litigation in the future aimed at preserving the position of rating agencies.
“The guidelines limit the cross-holding of media entities in rating agencies to not more than 10%. Given this, and the present ownership structure of the rating agency, there is a likelihood of litigation, whereby the guidelines may be challenged," he said.