Industry reaction mixed to CNBC report

Hours after business channel CNBC India put out a report casting doubts on the reliability of the ratings systems in India, reactions from the industry were mixed.

CNBC aired its story after its reporter Naomi Dutta got her hands on what CNBC claims is the full list of 627 households in Mumbai that had peoplemeters - the data source for television ratings points for both the market research agencies ORG Marg's Intam as well as AC Nielsen's Tam data. 

If what the report says is true I would be very, very concerned. The implications are extremely disturbing, Andrey Purushottam, managing director, Starcom, said, when asked for his reaction to a scenario where confidentiality could not be guaranteed.

"TRP numbers are used to evaluate trends rather than snapshots," Alex Kuruvilla, MD MTV India, said, adding that whatever the merits of the CNBC story, the ratings by and large reflect the prevailing reality. 

Intam MD Gautam Mitra pointed out that while he still had to ascertain whether the list that CNBC had was a comprehensive one, it was not as if the system did not have checks and balances in place. Mitra also clarified that whatever may be the claims of the reporter about how she went about getting her list, getting hold of the names of homes which had people meters was not a very easy thing to do.

Mitra however, admitted that if CNBC actually did have the complete list of people meters in Mumbai, then it was an issue which would have to be looked into thoroughly.

Tam president GV Krishnan was extremely critical of CNBC for going public on the issue. "Unfortunately, when somebody succeeds (Star) the guns point at him. They have an industry body (Indian Broadcasting Foundation) and we were in regular discussions with them. They could have talked about it there rather than gone public with it. It's an industry issue, not a public issue. Going to the public doesn't make sense."

"We were not told about this issue by CNBC," Krishnan stressed. "Anyway, nowhere in the world is any metering system totally foolproof." Krishnan added that if there were no TRPs channels would be able to charge what they want (to advertisers).

Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) president Ramesh Narayan said the system in India was the same as is followed in the rest of the world so there was no need to get all worked up although he did admit that it was a wake up call to the industry.

Mitra said the way it worked was that as soon as the agencies got any inkling that anyone from their sample had been contacted then that person was immediately removed from their sample list.

Intam also carries out what Mitra called coincidental studies - where a completely different set of people were approached to get a proper perspective. "We also commission third-party agencies to carry out surveys." Mitra said it was information culled from all these surveys that goes into making the research agency's ratings charts.

One industry source dismissed the report as a storm in a teacup. "Everybody knows that there is always a possibility to manipulate people meters. Basically ratings are nothing more than a tool to gauge trends in viewership patterns. Nobody in the industry really believes that this is foolproof data. This report in no way compromises what the ratings system is all about."

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