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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  A milestone year for media

The year 2015 marked several milestones for the media and entertainment industry. The foremost was the rollout on 29 April of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, the country’s homegrown television audience measurement data. The launch was announced by BARC chief executive Partho Dasgupta in a tweet. BARC was planned and executed as an alternative to TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, the audience measurement system put in place by information and insights firm Nielsen and Kantar Media, a WPP company. BARC, on the other hand, is a joint industry initiative of broadcasters, advertising agencies and advertisers that have together funded the new study on television viewership.

Today, it is a reliable measurement system for the TV industry which, during the course of the year, also subsumed TAM. So, any doubts on the potential conflict between the two in a dual advertising currency (commercial airtime on channels is sold on the basis of viewership data) scenario have been laid to rest. In August, BARC announced its tie-up with TAM for a new meter management company to manage panel operations. This entailed the integration of 12,000 meters of TAM with those of BARC. The assimilation is expected in the first quarter of the new calendar year.

A subset of the BARC launch is the inclusion of the rural viewership measurement, which was another high point of the year. The launch of rural ratings after deriving data from 22,000 meters split between urban and rural markets caused major disruption in the broadcasting sector. According to BARC estimates, of the total 153.5 million television households, 77.5 million are in urban India and 76 million in rural India. To be sure, the inclusion of data from this market impacted channel rankings as the free-to-air channels got a major boost. Consequently, broadcasters, especially news channels, became free-to-air from being pay and got on to Freedish, Doordarshan’s direct-to-home platform, to service the rural market.

If BARC was a positive development for broadcasters, the private FM auctions gave a leg-up to the radio sector. After an unprecedented delay, the ministry of information and broadcasting finally held the electronic auctions for phase three of radio privatization between July and September. Twenty-six operators were permitted to participate in the e-auction, which took 32 days to complete. Although 38 frequencies out of 135 on auction remained unsold, the exercise was deemed a success as it allowed FM radio to reach newer cities and smaller towns. That is not all. The government made 1,187 crore from auctioning new frequencies, with licences for Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru going for 169.2 crore, 122.8 crore and 109.2 crore, respectively. In all, the centre earned more than 3,000 crore as it also earned a migration fee from 245 radio stations moving to phase three from phase two.

In a surprising move, print media’s stodgy body—the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the non-profit body for measuring and auditing newspaper and magazine circulation in the country—announced that it will start measuring digital audiences. Shashi Sinha, chairman of ABC and chief executive of IPG Mediabrands, said the technology back-end was already in place and the service, being launched in collaboration with Nielsen, may be up and running in the first quarter of the new financial year.

For a strictly print media body to measure digital can be termed path-breaking as it implies the mainstreaming of digital media. Currently, publications use various measurement yardsticks and agencies. These include third-party tracking sites like Alexa, comScore, Google Analytics and The trouble with such measurement is that publishers rarely agree with their numbers and in the absence of auditing, advertisers cannot rely on them. Against this backdrop, ABC promises to provide a third-party digital measurement service open both to newspaper publishers and digital properties. The move could help expand the digital advertising pie by making media options comparable.

Last but not the least, in November, the government announced further liberalization of foreign direct investment in the media sector. It raised the FDI limit in television news channels and private FM radio to 49% from the existing cap of 26%. The foreign investment limit in DTH, digital cable networks and so-called Headend in the Sky services (HITS)—a satellite based system to deliver TV channels to cable operators—was raised to 100% from 74%.

The response from the media industry to the announcement was mixed. News channels griped that strategic investors would not be keen unless other regulatory requirements like the insistence on 51% shareholding with a single Indian owner and restrictions on appointments of top editorial positions are changed.

Radio sector executives felt that international radio companies are battling digital streaming sites on their home turfs and may not be interested in India, though they claimed that foreign portfolio investments may flow in as they are bullish on the sector.

Paritosh Joshi, a media veteran and CEO of India TV, believes that deals may not happen in the short-term, but the FDI in media was not a dead policy. There’s bound to be activity in the future.

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: 31 Dec 2015, 01:46 AM IST
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