Television

"Our systems are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment" : L V Krishnan TAM India CEO

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"Measuring the pulse of Indian TV audiences" - one sees these words almost everywhere in the Mumbai headquarters of TAM India. With services in more than 20 countries spanning Asia, Europe and Americas, TAM has come a long way in India (since its inception in 1998) to be regarded not only as the universal television currency but also as a complete television solution provider.

TAM India - or rather Television Audience Measurement Media Research, a 50:50 joint venture between Nielsen Media Research(NMR) / AC Nielsen and Kantar Media Research(KMR) / IMRB, is the only TV measurement system in India. Post-expansion plans by January 2003, TAM has staked its claim to become the biggest measurement system in Asia Pacific with a panel strength of 4,800 meters covering nearly 30,000 individuals in 14 states. TAM India has offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Vadodara (TAM Adex team).

In the hot seat is TAM India CEO LV Krishnan who has successfully donned the mantle of guiding the firm through uncharted territories and a turbulent phase. His ad agency background and previous experience that involved working with some of the best brains in the country have helped him shoulder the multitudinous responsibilities with great panache. In October 2003, the soft-spoken but highly assertive Krishnan will be completing three years at the helm. A 'team man' to the core, Krishnan says that he wouldn't have been able to do justice to the 'extremely challenging assignment' without the support of his team.

In this interview Krishnan talks to indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Kotian about the ratings scenario, recent initiatives taken by TAM India and the post conditional access environment.

Excerpts:

There is an impression that the monopoly situation in the country actually helps TAM India get away with a lot of things?

Monopoly is the wrong term and a single rating system doesn't mean being monopolistic. In several countries around the world, a single system still prevails and caters to the diverse needs of the broadcasters, ad agencies and advertisers. We (at TAM India) feel that we have more responsibilities and the emphasis is on delivering optimum value.

We have a very good subscriber base; and the idea is to share their concerns, shoulder their burdens and partner them. We understand that the industry is going through a tough time. Having said that we ardently believe that the support (from broadcasters, agencies and advertisers) to research should have been much more than what it is at present. We empathise with concerns expressed by industry luminaries who have voiced their views in this context. We urge them to raise the cudgels on our behalf and commit more revenues to research.

Several people have expressed a viewpoint that distribution data should be used in conjunction with TV ratings. What do you have to say?

Recently, we have read a lot of reports that distribution data has to be treated separately. But, distribution is already factored in when we work out the ratings. In fact, the data provided by us is a cumulative of distribution data, viewership ratings along with time spent.

One doesn't have to look out for distribution data separately or in isolation. If channels don't have proper distribution systems, then they won't feature in the ratings. Viewers can sample channel offerings only if broadcasters ensure proper distribution; and only then does the reach get rated.

Our systems are extremely sensitive to the changes in the environment. Even the minor fluctuations - changes in content or viewing behaviour or shifts in distribution are reported.

Can you give us an example of how sensitive the TAM system is?

A prime example of our efficacy is the way in which our meters gave accurate insights into the situation prevailing in Mumbai earlier this year when there were cable blackouts.

These were turbulent times for the industry wherein a majority of channels switched off their transmission to MSO INCableNet. Once, the transmission was stopped, the majority of the MSO's local franchise operators started stealing signals from other MSOs; others switched loyalties. Our data (and S-Group research reports) proved that the viewership of the larger mass entertainment channels remained largely unaffected.

However, there were some interesting fallouts of this signal stealing that have been brought to the forefront. Here are some excerpts:

* As far as distribution was concerned, the connectivity of Hathway owned channels actually went up and channels such as Ten Sports were upgraded to the prime band (in place of ESPN Star Sports). TAM data shows that in the week beginning 4 May 2003, both INCableNet's CVO as well as INMumbai channels had around 35 per cent connectivity in the prime band - a figure that tallies with the approximate 40 per cent cable connections of Mumbai covered by the MSO.

In the subsequent week, there was a clear decline in the distribution for INCableNet owned CVO and INMumbai channels. But Hathway's Cine Cable Channel (CCC) went up from 30 per cent connectivity (prime and colour band cumulatively) to 45 per cent. Hathway's ITV also went up in the top two bands as well as in the UHF band.

* As far as reach was concerned (people who saw the channel for at least one minute that week), the increase in connectivity resulted in huge reach gains for CCC/ITV whereas CVO and INMumbai fell. The reach for ITV increased by 24 per cent for the week ended 17 May 2002 from 17 per cent in the earlier week. CCC increased from 21 per cent to 33 per cent. The reach for CVO fell from 27 per cent to a mere 7 per cent and that for INMumbai fell to a meagre 4 per cent. However, Ten Sports remained stable in reach as the cumulative total of the prime and the colour bands didn't change much.

* As far as time spent viewing channels is concerned, the time spent on ITV increased by 84 per cent; that for CCC went up by 108 per cent whereas INMumbai and CVO decreased.

It is important to note that everything returned to normal as soon as order was restored. Our data provides invaluable insights on information related to placements of programmes in the various time bands; behaviour related to viewing channels placed in any particular band or time slots amongst others. Decision makers need to refer to this data while deciding their strategy.

"Our system has 30,000 individuals logging in every day. I would say that this is the world's largest television rating panel. It's quite a task - very tough - to collate data from so many individuals and report it within a week"

How many meters are currently installed in the country?

We have nearly 4,800 peoplemeters installed in the entire country - urban markets and Class I towns (100,000 population). Currently, we are represented in 14 Indian states (Maharashtra/Goa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, West Bengal, Orissa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan). The only ones left are Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern states. We are in talks with several constituents and decision makers in these states and we are hopeful of breakthroughs.

At present, our system has 30,000 individuals logging in every day. I would say that this is the world's largest television rating panel. It's quite a task - very tough - to collate data from so many individuals and report it within a week. In addition to reporting, we decipher the data and also provide insights in a market place that is almost impossible to crack otherwise.

On top it all, we have to constantly strive to ensure that the panel is extremely sensitive to the environmental changes. For instance, even minor details such as the fact that viewership during World Cup cricket matches dropped by a minimum of 20 per cent whenever Sachin Tendulkar got out; or a Rajnikanth (south Indian superstar) movie weans away viewers from other channels in south India.

What kind of checks and counter-checks do you have to enhance efficiency?

TAM India has a full-fledged Joint Industry Body (JIB) technical committee key overseeing operations almost every day because most of these JIB members - comprising of industry luminaries - use the data day in day out.

The chairman of the JIB committee is Unilever research director BV Pradeep. The other members include Puneet Arora (Starcom's P&G Research head), Manjunath (heading consumer research in Colgate Palmolive), Sashi Mandapathy (P&G), Srinivas Prabhu (Universal McCann), Jasmin Sohrabji (MediaCom VP), Amit Ray (Mudra Optimum Media Solutions senior VP), Divya Gupta (The Media Edge CEO), CR Mallikarjunadas (Asian Paints, now moving back to Starcom) amongst others.

The JIB committee members advise us on corrections and also guide us about the placement of samples in newer areas. In fact, they were "the guiding force" during our recent expansion exercise. As I stated earlier, the members also check the data on a constant basis.

Apex association bodies such as the ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers) and the AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India) amongst others have reiterated the current peoplemeter-based TRP system "is essential for professional media buying". These esteemed organisations have instructed their technical committee and research partners to build in measures to ensure that the process is "as foolproof as possible" and also devise mechanisms "to identify and correct contamination at any level".

We wholeheartedly welcome feedback, suggestions and support from all the industry constituents. Even the software provided today is more sophisticated and robust than what was used an year back. The system is constantly evolving and becoming better and better with time.

"Nearly 16 per cent of the homes in Mumbai belong to SEC A and 25 per cent of the total samples are from SEC A"

There is a view that SEC A is not properly represented. What do you have to say on this?

As far as SEC A (socio economic class) is concerned, I feel that the segment is over represented. Nearly 16 per cent of the homes in Mumbai belong to SEC A; and 25 per cent of the total samples are from SEC A. I believe that we have adequate representation - qualitatively and quantitatively.

What are the specialised services that have been launched for broadcasters?

We encourage an interactive process of consultation with the broadcasting fraternity. TAM India has also launched specialised services for broadcasters. For instance, "Track TAM - The Promo Monitor" is one of the most advanced tools in the TAM's offering for broadcasters. It consists of a series of tools and techniques to evaluate the performance of on-air programme promotions.

The process involves fusion of raw level viewership data with the TAM ADEX data on programme promotions. The Track TAM - Promo Monitor can provide 'actionable' information into areas of promo planning that have so far been "black holes" for broadcaster namely:

* Optimised promo plan, which minimises opportunity costs for the channel network.

* Effect of cross media promotions.

* Effective frequency of promotion exposures.

* Effect of changes in creative on conversions.

Certain major groups such as Zee don't support TAM ratings. Your comment.

We are constantly talking to broadcasters such as Zee TV and making efforts to allay their fears and concerns. We are hopeful that they will become our valued customers some day in the near future.

After all, we merely collate data; we don't offer insights into why they behave in a particular way. However, broadcasters can analyse our data to make course corrections - by observing the existing trends and using this data to better their strategy. Several broadcasters do conduct in-depth studies (qualitative and quantitative) on their own accord to understand viewer psychology and probe behaviours.

Several strides have been taken but everyone agrees that more needs to be done. There is no magic formula as such to create successful entertainment brands every time or every day. Producers use various ways and means to come up with a winning combination - factors such as novelty, imagination, research that allows one to feel the pulse of the consumer, perseverance and even 'trial and error' play an important role.

Certain Multi System Operators (MSOs) are talking about set top boxes (STBs) that will act as peoplemeters in the post conditional access system (CAS) scenario?

It is difficult to imagine a post-CAS scenario wherein the industry constituents would depend on set top boxes (STBs). STBs are restricted in the ability to capture data as they are not designed to do so. Not all STBs come equipped with the smart card credited for capturing TV viewership information the chip has to be purchased and installed separately.

Also, such STBs can only record certain variables within a restricted universe. For instance, they don't track FTA (free to air) channels or terrestrial channels. They don't have an ability to study consumer behaviour on a minute-by-minute basis. They can't offer insights into the profiles of the person who is watching a programme or a channel at any given point of time - they can't even say whether someone is watching or not.

In the post CAS scenario, each MSO in India will offer different technologies and set top boxes of different makes. MSOs such as Hinduja's INCablenet that use sophisticated systems will be able to offer quality data. However, audience measurement also involves activities such as research design, research methodology, representation of diverse viewing clusters, validation techniques, data processing and fusion among others - it may not be feasible for cable companies to carry out such complex and intricate details. After all, research is a very specialised function.

But, again the CAS phenomenon will be restricted to the metros in the initial stages. Research shows that a substantial chunk of FMCG sales come from outside the four major metros. In fact, only 11 per cent of toothpaste sales come from Mumbai and Delhi.

To nail this debate, I would say that you can't do two things at the same time. MSOs cannot be content suppliers as well as data suppliers. Research has to be free of bias and third party entities are the best judges.

Will life really change for TAM post CAS?

With CAS, India is moving ahead in the direction that several developed countries are heading towards. However, it is important "to take life as it is and just live with it" in the post CAS scenario.

In the post CAS scenario, rating agencies will incorporate some minor changes in the universe of C&S households to provide information on those households that invest in set top boxes to watch pay channels.

Tracking of the CAS homes will start from day one. However, the readings will not alter dramatically till an optimum level of adoption of set top boxes is reached. The representation will not change much unless penetration reaches a certain level.

You should read the various papers that we have put up on our website and also circulated amongst the fraternity.

"We have received a phenomenal response and nearly 1,100 people have attended the TAM MATE sessions till date"

What kind of a response have you got for the TAM MATE sessions?

Since 2002, we have been conducting a novel programme for the new 'walk-ins' into the media sector christened as "Day in the life of a TAM-MATE". The idea is to expose the younger generation to the various aspects of the Television Audience Measurement functions during the course of the day.

Lots of people from colleges move to the industry and take responsible positions almost overnight. It is difficult to expect them to be hands-on right from Day 1. We decided to undertake familiarisation sessions involving the 'uninitiated'; exposing them to all aspects of television research; adapting media concepts; and interpreting data; telling them what to look for in databases amongst other things.

The day long session seek to stimulate learning and knowledge sharing. The programme addresses the following areas:

· Background of TV audience measurement research

· Sampling, methodology and research design of the TAM panel

· Visit to a dummy PeopleMeter installation setup for data collection

· Understanding some of the media planing and buying terminologies

· Exposure to the user-end TAM software and its various use

· Understanding the implications of factors governing audience viewing behaviour

· Sampling the use of TAM databases available for analysis

(Xpert - Optimiser, ConnecTAM, AdEx).

· CAS and its implications on future of television media.

We have received a phenomenal response and nearly 1,100 people have attended the TAM MATE sessions till date. We never expected this kind of a response wherein nearly 25 people would attend every session.

The best part being that even the top advertisers sent their representatives. The point to note is the fact that advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasters look at data very differently. We provided a common forum wherein all the constituents would freely exchange ideas/views and fuse their contrasting approaches. We believe that this will go a long way in helping industry to realign thinking; charting a common approach towards attaining common goals and objectives.

"PIM is India's largest pool of print innovation. It has been a great asset to agency planners and buyers who work on the annual client plans under tremendous pressure and stringent deadlines"

Can you tell us about some value added service that will be launched by TAM India and offered to media planners and buyers?

We are considering launching a Television Innovation Monitor (TIM). TAM India has compiled exhaustive information on the various options available for 'creating innovations on print' on a single CD. The CD provides information (annual basis) on 'innovations' in nearly 700 Indian publications; and is a one-stop shop available to media planners and buyers.

PIM is India's largest pool of print innovation. It has been a great asset to agency planners and buyers who work on the annual client plans under tremendous pressure and stringent deadlines. By using this value-added service provided by TAM India, the fraternity has been able to obtain information at the click of a button. Now, we are planning to extend the concept to track 'innovation on television'.

You will soon be completing three years in the organisation. Tell us about your experiences at TAM India?

My stint with TAM has been an extremely challenging exercise. We have made a lot of progress but a lot of work still needs to be done. However, I must admit I wouldn't have achieved anything without the support and cooperation of the entire team. We have struck together during the crisis situations as well as celebrated the good times together. The credit goes to the entire team of 39 people; and the TAM ADEX team of 24 people based in Baroda (Vadodara).

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