Home/ Opinion / Online-views/  Will rural ratings disrupt channel rankings?

For the past 15 months, broadcasters have been busy expanding their presence in the rural markets by deploying their boxes and signing deals with local cable operators. Television channels in different genres, especially those in news and general entertainment, have invested several crores in distribution tie-ups and carriage fees (the amount paid to cable operators to be carried on the prime band) to be seen in rural India, which is still an analogue market. Some have even jumped on to DD Free Dish, the direct-to-home platform of the public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati.

The rush to be available in rural India is understandable. Broadcast Audience Research Council India, or BARC India, has started measuring what rural India watches. Essentially, this means that BARC, the joint industry body of broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies, has expanded its sample size and added rural households to its TV panel.

The buzz in the television industry is that the viewership ratings emanating from this exercise that were expected to be launched at the end of September have been indefinitely postponed, and no new date has been made available to broadcasters and advertisers.

There is little clarity on why rural data has been deferred. Some allege that channels that are anticipating change in their rankings may be putting pressure on BARC to withhold release. Others claim that some glitches in urban viewership data need to be ironed out before rural is rolled out.

On its part, BARC claims it is ready with the rural data release. “However, we shall announce the date at an appropriate time," says Partho Dasgupta, chief executive of BARC India.

To be sure, BARC plans to release television viewership numbers from rural markets together with data from urban towns with a population of less than 100,000.

This is making television channels nervous as the new market is kind of a black box. They don’t know how they will fare in the new geography since the TV viewing universe being monitored earlier was much smaller. The 7,000-8,000 new meters in rural India and small towns may throw up more than marginal changes.

In its roadshows in the run-up to the release of rural data, BARC hinted at some of these changes. For starters, BARC’s definition of “rural" is as per Census of India 2011, where whatever is not categorized as urban is rural. (Urban statutory towns include all places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board, or notified town area committee). Urban also includes the so-called census towns, which are basically places where agriculture is not the main source of livelihood and where people are more like their urban counterparts. Rural, meanwhile, comprises over 600,000 villages.

According to BARC India estimates, of the total 153.5 million television households in the country, 77.5 million are in urban India and 76 million in rural India. BARC says that 30% of its total metered homes will be in rural India.

Although Dasgupta declines to share details of how the inclusion of rural TV-viewing homes will change life for the channels, he does admit that rural markets will have a larger component of younger audiences. Close to 55.6% of rural India viewership falls in the
15-40-year age group, while urban viewership in the same age group is 52.3%.

Besides the early to bed and early to rise lifestyle of rural folk may upset the conventional definition of “prime time" for channel owners.

That is not all. What will probably also impact the measurement, and, therefore, the findings, is the fact that large stretches of key states such as Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are rural.

While a clearer picture on which channel genres will do well may emerge once rural ratings are rolled out, some regional language content is expected to perform better, as are the free-to-air channels. BARC’s recent study shows that rural India is a significant contributor to each genre. In the Hindi general entertainment channel genre, which boasts 5.36 billion gross impressions (ratings in thousands) in the Hindi-speaking markets, 2.4 billion of these are contributed by rural. In the Hindi films genre, 1.1 billion of the 2.64 billion gross impressions are from rural India.

Rural viewership data may disrupt the current channel rankings and programme ratings as the weightage assigned to different cities will change. Earlier, the entire weightage that determined ratings resided in the urban markets as rural was not being monitored. Now the same weightage will be split between urban (metros and other cities) and rural and towns with a population of less than 100,000. This may lead to the weightage of the metros dropping from 33% to 11%, according to estimates by broadcasting executives. On the other hand, weightage of states with large rural areas like Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab and Haryana may go up.

Result? The entire TV-viewing universe may get affected. So if the weight attached to the current metros, cities and towns equalled 100, the same 100 will now be re-distributed to include rural markets as well as towns with a population of less than 100,000. With this weight change, a channel’s core town ratings may decline.

Both advertisers and broadcasters are waiting for the rural data with bated breath. Neither is sure how the new markets will behave. Tension is more palpable among broadcasters as it will affect their future pricing ability for advertising deals and have revenue implications. It’s time for a reality check.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing, and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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Updated: 01 Oct 2015, 01:06 AM IST
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