US co’s entry may shake up radio audience tracking biz

US co’s entry may shake up radio audience tracking biz

The radio audience measurement business in India is set to become more competitive, with executives at some radio broadcast firms claiming that Arbitron Inc., a US-based market research firm, is looking to launch its system here.

The executives, who did not wish to be identified, added that the US firm has appointed Hyderabad-based technology and marketing consultancy Smart Mandate to offer its measurement product here.

India already has two competing radio audience measurement products: TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd’s Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) and Media Research Users Council’s (MRUC) Indian Listenership Track (ILT).

Emails sent to Thom Mockarsy, senior vice-president, Arbitron, last week did not get a response. Jessica Benbow, the person in-charge of press relations at the US firm, confirmed receiving Mint’s email, but said the company had no comment to offer. Kartik V., the chief operating officer of Smart Mandate, declined to comment.

The executives in the broadcast firms added Arbitron will also invest in a back-office that could be located in Kochi. They said a formal announcement about the company’s plans would be made in 2008.

Arbitron’s entry could, apart from shaking up the radio audience measurement space, also have an impact on the television audience measurement market here. The firm’s portable pager-like devices can detect any kind of audio signal and can be used in television audience measurement systems too.

Both TAM and MRUC are looking to move to electronic audience measurement systems for radio. Arbitron’s system can better capture listenership data because it is based on portable devices, an executive in the radio business said. Prashant Pandey, CEO, Radio Mirchi Entertainment Network India Ltd, claimed Arbitron’s electronic measurement offered 100% accuracy.

Other people in the business added that the company’s system could cost broadcasters around 20% more than TAM’s. Advertisers or their agencies buy space on radio partly on the basis of audience measurement data.

Anupriya Acharya, president, TME India, the media arm of Rediffusion DY&R Pvt. Ltd and vice-chairperson (radio technical committee), MRUC, did not respond to Mint’s queries. And TAM’s CEO L.V. Krishnan declined to comment.

In the countries where it currently operates, Arbitron has a panel of respondents that carries its portable people meter (or PPM). This device detects audio codes embedded in broadcasts. At the end of the day, the user docks the device into a system that downloads the data and send it to Arbitron. TAM’s RAM uses the diary system. Respondents (480 each) in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore simply log the details of the radio programmes they listen to each day in their diary, which forms the basis for tabulating weekly radio listenership ratings for these markets.

MRUC’s ILT, the oldest radio audience measurement system in the country, releases listenership data each quarter, or in four waves. ILT is based on day after recall (DAR) method where respondents are queried about their listenership habits a day after actually listening to the medium. The sample size is 4,500 people each in Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata in each wave.

Executives in the radio industry say there is still a lot of debate on the accuracy of electronic measurement using portable devices. “Technology has still not stabilized as far as electronic measurement goes. Plus it comes with additional costs...," said Abraham Thomas, CEO, Red FM Digital Radio (Mumbai) Broadcasting Ltd. Thomas added that the diary system is the most popular across several countries. Executives also say that audience measurement research is funded partly by broadcasters (80%) and party by advertisers or media buyers (20%). The radio industry has already paid for RAM, they add.

HT Media, which publishes Mint, also runs an FM radio station called Fever 104.

Meanwhile, a newly formed industry body BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) has said said it would look to fine tune TV audience research.

However, although Arbitron’s devices can be used in television audience measurement, Paritosh Joshi, president, Star India Pvt. Ltd, and a representative of BARC, said this wasn’t something that could happen immediately. “After aMap (from Audience Measurement and Analytics Ltd) and TAM Media Research’s peoplemeters, anyone who arrives here will be player number three. And it’s a long road ahead before they, or anyone, get acceptance from all parties ...," he added.