Television

'An increase in C&S penetration doesn't necessarily mean we need to increase sample size' : LV Krishnan - Tam India chief executive officer

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The broadcast industry currency Tam ratings has been in the line of fire lately. Zee Telefilms and Sahara One have pointed fingers at the agency recently questioning its data.

At the helm of the six-year-old agency TAM India is its polite yet firm CEO LV Krishnan. Confident about the agency and its way of functioning, he refuses to be bogged down under pressure, takes the criticisms in his stride and has announced major expansion plans.

In a t?te-?-t?te with Indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara, Krishnan clears doubts that many in the industry may be having about Tam. He throws light on Tam and AdEx' expansion plans and speaks at length on various industry issues such as the areas where broadcasters need to channelise their energies in order to achieve maximum return on investment and more...

Excerpts:

Let's first start with the recent controversy surrounding Sahara One and their discontentment with the Tam ratings around 'Dial One Aur Jeeto'. Also Zee is raising eyebrows on the 'Time Bomb' ratings thrown up by Tam. What seems to be the problem?

These are normal client queries, which we keep getting. There's nothing controversial about it. Sahara had put forth their query to us and we replied back. Yes, they went into the media with it but we didn't want to do the same because the answers were very clear.

Firstly, there is no direct correlation between call-ins and the ratings. The relationship does exist in a directional manner and which is what you can see in the data that we showed to Sahara One. Their new formats actually brought in a lot more new audiences. It's stickiness of content that creates ratings. They understood where the issues were.

Today, the good thing about Tam is that we have fantastic science built in to understand audience behaviour patterns. We want to keep bettering the benchmarks in terms of quality of information and in terms of the way in which we are analyzing the data and delivering insights to users. Those insights are the ones that can help them in garnering eyeballs at the end of the day.

aMap has now entered the space and is planning to have 20,000 panel homes by 2006. Added to that the fact that they deliver overnight ratings online, do you think a situation where there are two competing ratings agencies a la the earlier TAM and INTAM ratings monitors may come into being again?

I don't think I need to comment on aMap at all, the industry should be commenting on it. Tam doesn't see aMap as competition.

From our point of view, we have been here for the last six years helping the industry to understand the television information data in a better manner. And that's what we want to keep doing in the future too.

We are trying to make systems through which the data can become even more actionable than it is now. Therefore in a greater perspective, we have moved from a mere ratings agency to an agency that provides intelligence.

Apart from these grievances, the mood at Tam seems to be buoyant with the increase in the TV panel and the scaling up Adex operations. However these plans have been in the pipeline for some time now. When exactly will the new peoplemeters be installed and AdEx ops scaled up?

The only thing that is stalling this whole process is money. We are trying to take help from the industry to actually move forward in our expansion plans. The funds are not yet in place but we are in discussions with the entire industry.

Keeping these things in mind, when do you think it is likely that the Tam panel and AdEx expansion plans will materialise?

The first step is that the NRS 2005 has released and we have a new database so the measurement science unit is working on those expansion plans. We will soon reveal the time span for it and also the details of how many meters we require and the number of homes we will cover.

It will be in two stages. The first will be the expansion to the new NRS homes. The second stage will be to go beyond Class I towns and go into smaller towns and rural markets.

The central parties who will be coordinating this will be Tam Measurement Science unit as well as the JIB (joint industry body) technical committee, which comprises broadcasters, agencies and advertisers.

'Technology is gearing more and more towards the top end of the market place. It's a sorry plight'

What's on the agenda as far as rural expansion is concerned?

We are planning to expand into small towns and rural markets very soon and there are many complexities that those markets will bring in. Many of the broadcasters don't even have an iota of an idea on those markets. That's where they need to strengthen themselves to compete in the future.

Can you give me a ballpark figure on the kind of investment that is likely to go into the expansion?

The investment is considerable. However, I can't share specific numbers with you.

How is Radio Adex faring? What has the industry response been to it?

It's doing pretty good and the industry response has also been good. In fact in the last three years India has released the largest number of new products catering to the broadcast and media industry than any other Nielsen company worldwide. So that's a fantastic achievement by the team.

How often do you upgrade your technology to cover different platforms like DTH, cable, IPTV and mobile?

Good question! Let me tell you that it's a sorry plight. Technology is gearing more and more towards the top end of the market place. We have technology like DTH and broadband coming in which probably will be used by the higher end of the society. And because of the new adoption of technology on the higher end, we are also adopting newer technologies like digital meters which are geared to measure DTH and broadband.

My worry is what is happening to those millions of homes who are living in rural India and have black and white TV sets. There is no affordable, cheaper and easier technology provider who is focusing on that segment cheaper and easier to use technology that could upgrade them to the next level.

But we believe that we need to unlock the potential in that market. We are working in that direction with a small project with one of our alliance partners, whose name I cannot reveal at this point in time. Sooner or later we will be out with a technology that would enable measurement of the rural markets in a cheaper manner. We will begin testing in a couple of months.

What are the norms that are followed for replacing the old TV panels? How often is it done?

It is a continuous replacement. A specific Indian panel doesn't stagnate at all. The panel is changed almost 25-30 per cent per annum and that is primarily because of the change in demographics, migratory population and the structure of the universe in the market place. The latter can be the outcome of change in the kind of TV sets, change in the ownership of the remote control and non-remote control, an upgradation of the platform from which one gets the signals. So it can be any of these which can influence a panel change.

How is the panel distribution done across SEC A, B, C and D? Will there be any change in the mix?

Let me stress on the fact that we only represent Class I towns in this country, which are towns with more than 100,000 population. We don't represent the entire the country yet. I think it is important to say that because people are still under the misconception that we represent 85 million TV homes. We don't!

In the socio economic classes, we have sampling distributed equally among all five SECs. The measure of the system is to try and gauge the behavioral patterns of heterogeneous groups. If there is homogeneity in viewing, we don't require a large sample size, but when there is heterogeneity then we require more samples. Therefore, when we see heterogeneity in the higher end segment group, that's where the skew of the meters automatically go into.

An increase in population, homes, TV sets or cable and satellite penetration doesn't necessarily mean that we need to increase sample size. What you require is more heterogeneity in viewing behaviour.

One of the reasons that we are coming out with the Elite panel is because we believe that segment has more heterogeneity and the panel will capture that heterogeneity in the Mumbai and Delhi market.

One of the major happenings will be the launch of T-Sky and Sun Direct. We already have Doordarshan's and Zee's DTH platforms. Now with the other two launching and also Anil Ambani's plans to enter DTH, what is your vision for the space? Is there a market in India for so many players?

DTH is just evolving. Why only three platforms, there could be more. But with the Trai regulation saying that content needs to be provided equally to all distribution platforms it negates the purpose of multiple platforms automatically. But the only thing that multiple platforms can ensure is competition and better pricing. Energetic marketing will be able to drive volume in this space.
How are you'll monitoring the CAS market down South? Are there any interesting findings?

The CAS market is dead.
Now coming to some broad industry issues, MRUC and NRS are not seeing eye-to-eye as far as the total number of C&S homes in the country is concerned. What are your views on this?

From the independent tests that we have conducted on our own, we are more or less in agreement with what the NRS numbers indicate.

We have no comments on the issues that MRUC has raised with NRS. We are ready to work with anyone in the market provided they are independent bodies and have their own equity in the market.

For us, NRS and IRS are two valuable sources of information that gives us an idea of the overall universe structure.

What is your view on the broadcasting industry at present and where do you see it going?

The television industry is maturing and a first sign of it is to realize the fact that the industry needs to operate like any other marketing company. There was a deep rooted feeling earlier that they were just producing content to attract viewers but now the game of marketing has really started. What it's going to lead to:

1) A broadcaster will need to take a call whether he wants to be strong in the distribution platform and be a distribution king to that effect. That means controlling distributing platforms and enabling other people to use it in a big way. Therefore they can earn money through distribution and hence the revenue model will completely change.

2) The spin off into content manufacturing, which is already being seen. Broadcasters may not want to get into the content manufacturing process. They could leave it to studios to do that and that's when the roles of big studios will come in. Already Fremantle has set up shop in India. So the second spin off could be in terms of outsourcing content to big production houses and allow them to manufacture and give it back to them (broadcasters). So the broadcaster can focus on the marketing aspects and not content.

3) The broadcaster may just decide that he doesn't want to be in the game of either content manufacturing or a distribution platform. He may decide to outsource both of these and concentrate his energies on airtime sales and marketing.

4) A distributor may put money into a DTH, broadband or mobile platform or even into cable operations. On a content platform they can be more associated with research because that's what's bringing in eyeballs. The production companies will enlarge themselves to work more closely with research companies to understand viewer behaviour in a more prolific manner. The research will then be used by marketing teams of broadcasters to identify how they can work to more eyeballs. The production houses can use research to see how content changes is affecting eyeballs and airtime sales team can harp on the best programmes to get the best returns from advertisers. From the distribution platforms can use research to understand how better penetration will help in getting better returns on that platform.

When that kind of a usage starts happening in the broadcasting industry, that's when the industry will move from a maturity level to a completely evolved level in terms of using research in the right way.

'From the independent tests that we have conducted on our own, we are more or less in agreement with what the NRS numbers indicate'
What according to you have been the landmarks in the television space in the first half of 2005?

The good thing that has happened is that DTH is getting more aggressive in nature with new players coming in. Mobile TV as a platform has slowly started coming in and will start becoming more and more interactive in nature.

Some of the new companies that are planning to foray into broadcasting like Reliance are welcome given the kind of investments that they will be making. It's slowly going to be an industry where the big players are going to become more and more fortified.

Besides that Trai has played a fantastic role in bringing a couple of new resolutions. Also they are planning to open up the frequencies of terrestrial licenses. They are also looking at unification licenses for telecom which will bring in landline providers to walk in with additional services like television etc and vice versa.

In a way the pace has been set in the first half of 2005. I think we are going to see the effects of it in 2006-07.

Your take on the burgeoning news channels space. Will they sustain in the market?

It is very difficult for anyone to predict the future of news channels. But the fact is that there is a growing appetite for news content. The amazing thing is that it is not the volume of people consuming news but the rise in the amount of time spent on news channels.

The share on an average day of a news channel is five per cent which is good. It is only when extreme news (good or bad) happens that the tilt towards news increases and there is a dramatic increase in the market share.

But the more important thing to realize as more news channels come in is the need for a good distribution platform which will enable them to get through to the viewers.

Along with that, very few news channels have pushed themselves to market their brand in the minds of the customer. There are three or four news channels that have communicated their proposition to the consumers. But given the distribution scenario that exists on a free to air mode, where returns on distribution revenue are negligible for the broadcaster, he is forced to reduce cost on content. Therefore he is not able to create distinct content.

As I see it in the future with better distribution systems and better technology, these things will change.

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