Mumbai: Television ratings provider Audience Measurement and Analytics Ltd (aMap) plans to start measuring the TV viewing habits of audiences in rural India, providing broadcasters and marketeers potentially valuable data to better target the consumers in the countryside.

Reaching out: A file photo of a family and some labourers watching television in Kharonijan, a village in Jorhat, Assam. Broadcasters say measuring rural television audiences is a complex business. Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

The ratings provider will equip select homes in the countryside with peoplemeters, devices that are hooked up to TV sets and help track the popularity of television channels and programmes.

While marketeers across genres see rural India, home to about two-thirds of the country’s population, as key to their future fortunes, existing media consumption data related to the consumer in the countryside is still scanty.

The firm hopes to bridge the gap with its rural panel—the households in the countryside that will be participating in the sample. The panel is likely to be launched by early next year, though aMap does not specify the size of the sample or the geographies chosen.

Broadcasters and advertisers investing in the rural panel would be provided data pertaining to the television viewing habits of rural audiences at subsidized rates.

Last year, news reports said the government-owned broadcaster, Prasar Bharti, which beams Doordarshan channels. was jointly setting up a panel of peoplemeters in rural homes along with aMap.

“Doordarshan could be one of the parties we speak with, but there are other stakeholders as well," said Varma.

AMap has more than 6,500 peoplemeters installed nationwide, including those in households with direct-to-home television. In June, the company announced that it was installing a network of digital peoplemeters across 1,500 DTH homes nationwide.

The data has already started rolling out for some markets, providing audience size and market share of each DTH operator and viewership data of each channel and programme on the platform.

Still, rural TV audience measurement is a complex business, and infrastructure and costs are just part of the problem, broadcasters said.

“It opens up a whole host of questions such as: What would be the socio-economic classification for rural homes? No two rural homes are alike," said Paritosh Joshi, chief executive officer of Star-CJ Network. “There are also urban-bred people in rural areas running vineyards and farms and so on."

Unlike urban markets, much of rural TV viewing takes place in communities or collectively. Peoplemeters installed in urban homes come with a remote control and there are various buttons on the remote that members of a family can press in order to identify themselves.

“How would that happen when 20 people are watching a single TV set," asked Joshi.

Meanwhile, TV ratings company TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, the pioneer of television audience measurement systems that have become the established currency for advertisers and media buyers, said it has already made inroads into towns in Maharashtra that have a population of less than 100,000 each.

“Since January 2009, Tam expanded its panel to semi-rural markets and has been delivering the data for Maharashtra. Tam will always continue to expand markets based on user feedbacks and industry needs," a Tam spokesperson said.

He said Tam currently has 8,000 peoplemeters installed nationally, but didn’t disclose the exact number of the devices it had deployed in Maharashtra’s semi-rural markets.

Media specialist say wider and more in-depth rural data is needed for advertisers to reach the huge audience better at a time when they have access only to urban viewership data.

“Some data is available from TAM from semi-rural markets in Maharashtra, but by and large, we take the lowest socio-economic class in urban homes and extrapolate it against rural homes,’’ said L.S. Krishnan, president of Mudra Radar, media specialist arm of the Mudra Group.

He agrees that media planning will benefit from rural TV viewership data, but cautions that the exercise cannot be performed in half measures.