"How is a bad TV rating better than no rating?": IBF secretary general Shailesh Shah

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) got a new president in the form of MSM (Sony Entertainment Network) CEO Man Jit Singh last year. It also got a new secretary general in Shailesh Shah who last was CEO of a Singapore based venture a few months ago.

Both got their positions when the Indian television industry is going through its toughest transition in known memory.

India' cable TV landscape is being rejigged through a government mandated digitisation drive. The government is constantly playing big brother on the content front, threatening to switch off channels on the slightest excuse.

Advertising revenues for the most part have been growing marginally even as carriage fees have been battering the broadcasters’ bottom lines. And, of course, there has been an explosion with channels popping up almost every second week. This has led to fragmented audiences.

For more than half a decade since it was set up in 1999, the IBF was a weak agglomeration, set up with the intent of representing the broadcasting community. But it did not seem to go anywhere, until Essel Group managing director Jawahar Goel became its president and it really took off under the leadership of Star India CEO Uday Shankar who invested time to get the government and other partners and affiliates to understand the industry’s point of view and react favourably towards it.

Shah’s job is not easy: he has many masters as he leads an organisation, which has some of the most influential Indian executives on its board. But he has been running it quite deftly, absorbing and implementing their advice and inputs. Over the past three months, the IBF successfully got agencies to agree to net billings, and it is now working on getting ratings agency TAM Media to take a fresh look at how it conducts its ratings service.

We spoke to Shah on the IBF‘s strengths, accomplishments, stance on TAM, ad cap and much more...


How does the IBF work?

IBF is an Association that represents television broadcasters.

Its sole goal is to collectively improve the governance-bound economic growth prospects of television broadcasters by helping open gateways of access to revenue opportunities that matter. In doing so, the Foundation collectively a) identifies issues of import, b) researches these issues deeply, c) builds consensus around these issues , d) agrees to a strategy and execution plan on resolving issues, and most important, e) stays focused on execution until the issues are resolved.

Simple. No rocket science. Nose to the grind kind of stuff.

Like all such sector or industry associations, IBF works through a board.

Members of the board and/or the foundation office bring issues to the fore, and then follow the process above to figure out if the issue is important enough, the issue is researched sufficiently to arrive at root-causes, precedent, best-practices. The issue can be addressed with a strategy that will deliver a solution effectively, and the strategy and consequent execution plan is enabled by the board to deliver.

Every issue is dealt with through a working team, a committee, a task force or by the all important team of office bearers to arrive at conclusions and take them forward

The foundation office ensures that when an issue is important, consensus can be arrived at and discussions, dialogue, research presentations, white papers and the like are used to help arrive at a consensus.

So what has changed at the IBF that has brought issues like ad-slots, net billing, audience measurement, digitisation and content-complaints to the fore?

Honestly, nothing. IBF just became a teenager. In the grand scheme of organisational dynamics, the association, I believe is maturing to collectively take on issues more holistically.

The effort behind issues that bring researched solutions to the fore, make systematic effort to build consensus, ensure issues are genuinely industry-wide, and use the bright wisdom of its board effectively where a multiplicity of strengths lie is what IBF is doing more consistently.

IBF also is very clear about being governance bound. As a board, it has never attempted to do anything that attempts to lead toward incorrect, monopolistic or oligopolistic practices. Ever so often, emerging sectors face flack on collusion. IBF is extremely clear on this topic – if an issue has any bell or whistle around governance, the foundation will not allow it to be dealt with.

IBF’s ability to create teams from within its board and membership to address issues is also maturing well. The Foundation is able to consistently bring abroad representation on sensitive issues so that the resulting consensus is real, has stickiness, and will work. Similarly, teams that execute on issues or individuals that participate in committees are much more aligned to getting things done.

There are instances where slippages do happen, not differently from any other organisation. However, the collective efforts of the board ensure these are being improved upon. More important, the Foundation has every intention of becoming the best representative of its members, ever!

Who calls the shots at IBF?

The board, through its president calls the shots at IBF.

Over the years, IBF has become significantly more aligned on a bunch of topics that have come to either hurt them, or will help them.

If such topics pass the muster on governance, and will stay governance-bound, IBF’s board will work towards a resolution, plan and focused execution.

The big change is, there is real impetus over the last two years to not sweep topics under the carpet and the Foundation Office is playing a more active role in ensuring this remains steadfast.

I am so green behind my ears, it would be audacious for me to claim I have driven any change. I am fortunate to have come in at a time when I am being baptised by fire

 What issues is IBF focused on resolving?

The key priorities for IBF are digitisation, freedom of expression and a level playing field to bring every local and national channel being broadcast and distributed under the same purview of the MIB as its members and the 828 licensed channels are.

To address these key priorities, the foundation needs to be strong. Weaning away niggling problems is part of that.

How is IBF structured to address the issues and concerns of its members?

IBF forms committees to address issues that will take a while to resolve, or where recurring issues need to be addressed. On point issues, it will form task forces. These get agreed to after a debate at the board.

What have been the achievements and milestones so far?

Credit between agencies and broadcasters, has almost become a science. An exceedingly well-established complaints council manages issues related to content. Taxation resulting from the way broadcasters invoice agencies is being resolved. With the help of advertisers and agencies, a next-in-class audience measurement system is on its way. I think the real achievement is, broadcasters are able to see several issues in the same light much more today than ever before.

The media industry needs to dig deeply into understanding what is necessary to capture, measure and rate this vast linguistic diversity, geographic-cultural-social-economic-not-so-urbanised diversity notwithstanding

What changes have been brought in the IBF over the past years?

One of the biggest changes is, the tenure of leadership positions is clearly stated and accordingly, going forward, each leadership position will have limited “reign”. This is welcome because it provides opportunity and creates greater stickiness.

What changes have you driven?

I am so green behind my ears, it would be audacious for me to claim I have driven any change. The truth is, today is my hundreth day at IBF. I am fortunate to have come in at a time when I am being baptised by fire.

What is your vision for it?

Enable television broadcasters with the economic growth canvas that provides governance-bound access to multiple revenue streams and ensures collective progress through effective advocacy and interventions on issues such as digitisation, copacetic relationships with advertisers, agencies and the government, and most important, the right to express oneself with complete freedom, and the responsibility to do it correctly.

Tell us how Man Jit Singh came to be elected as the president? How was the election? Isn‘t it true that Uday Shankar wanted another term?

As I clearly said, the term for leadership positions is now pre-defined. The board follows due process in electing members into leadership positions and this is today followed stringently.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation, today, is very much a cheetah in a hurry. The past few months have seen IBF take a united and strong stance on matters like Net Billing, Ad cap and the latest TAM rating issue. What will you accredit this newfound aggression to?

Firstly, IBF has not come together on all these issues. While we have definitely worked on net billing together with the agencies, and worked with TRAI on trying to resolve advertising minutes, TAM is a problem some broadcasters are working on. We are working with the ministry on several components of digitisation. And we are working to ensure we have the right to genuine freedom of expression as we demonstrate commensurate responsibility in using that right.

Broadcasters are unhappy with what they are getting. So are the agencies. We have a road map for TV ratings in mind, but the industry will have to go through its recognition pains

 How has your journey as the secretary general been so far? Tell us about the highlights and accomplishments according to you?

When one gets to work with smart do-gooders who are intent on getting things done, helping drive that intent strategically, building relationships in places that matter, driving priorities to conclusion and being impactful, the journey becomes fun. The sector is in its infancy and I get to partake as it matures. What could be more satisfying.

Tell us what roles do the sub committees play in the over-all brand building and administration of IBF.

As you have seen from NASSCOM, CII and FICCI, the value of any industry or sector association is directly proportional to the work it does. We are becoming a cheetah in a hurry. Time will tell.

The Broadcast Content Complaints Council (BCCC), today has become the ultimate self regulatory benchmark for the industry. Elaborate on its strength, accomplishments, decisions and scope for improvement.

10 per cent of our work got done when IBF worked arduously to select a pre-eminent council, which includes socially responsible celebrities and several national commissions. They have executed exceedingly well giving us a rating exceeding 80 per cent. BCCC is evolving and as you shall see in the near term, it will show value from continuous improvement. Secretary general of the BCCC Ashish Sinha has provided yeoman stewardship to ensuring the foundation for self-regulation is well in its place.

Where do you see the on-going TAM fallout going at? What does the IBF exactly want? Do you think, an interim blackout until the establishment of BARC, is ideal for the industry?

80+ million Telugu speaking Indians and about 60 per cent of them watching television get compared on the same canvas as 600 million cricket viewers, one million CSI New York viewers and less than 20 million Punjabi television viewers. The media industry needs to dig deeply into understanding what is necessary to capture, measure and rate this vast linguistic diversity, geographic-cultural-social-economic-not-so-urbanised diversity notwithstanding. Simplistic, superficial answers will neither solve the problem nor satisfy ratings watchers who feel like they are at a discotheque. This is a serious problem and it requires serious thinking. To repeat, TAM is not the problem. Its ineffectiveness is viewed as one. I believe a solution will emerge and I request the industry to watch this space.

We have a road map in mind, but the industry will have to go through its recognition pains.

In the case of no ratings for the coming month, do you agree that historical benchmarks should be the guide for advertisers? There seems to be a conflicting support on the TAM issue with broadcasters vehemently against continuing ratings, whereas, advertisers are willing to give TAM a chance to solve its issues. What do you have to say about that?

Let me say this very, very simply – broadcasters are unhappy with what they are getting. So are the agencies. Please help me understand how a bad rating can be better than no rating?

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