The relentless attack against TAM Media, Indias sole
television ratings system, is coming from all sides.
First NDTVs lawsuit in New York accusing TAM of knowingly
allowing manipulation of viewership data in favour of channels
that are willing to provide bribes to its officials. Next
the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) pressing for the
existence of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). And
then the Prasar Bharati board approval to explore legal options
against TAM in consultation with the Information and Broadcasting
TAMs final support from advertising and media agencies
is also cracking. The Advertising Agencies Association of
India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) have
expressed concern over the issue and are meeting TAM officials
on 16 August.
(ISA and AAAI) will be taking a collective view on this issue.
We have scheduled a meeting with TAM later this week. I have
no independent opinion that I can share with you at this stage,
says GroupM South Asia CEO Vikram Sakhuja.
So is there something rotten in the ratings agency that influences
advertising expenditure of around Rs 140 billion on Indian
television networks a year?
truth is that parachuting out of TAM is no easy option. There
is no surviving ratings agency and setting up operations in
quick time to represent Indias vast and diverse socio-economic
structure cant happen in any hurry. It has, after all,
taken TAM 14 years of hard experience in the Indian market
to set up a ratings system that may have become inadequate
in coverage now (broadcasters would say inaccurate too) but
has largely captured the industry needs over so many years.
and the power tussle
BARC, the option that broadcasters have been toying with for
so long, is yet to gather wings. It is in a way stuck between
a power tussle between the broadcasters and the agencies.
Even after agreeing this March on a shareholding structure
with broadcasters having a majority of 60 per cent equity
and the AAAI and ISA holding the balance 40 per cent, it has
failed to get off the ground.
(IBF) are keen to set BARC in motion. But AAAI and ISA have
been responsible for slowing down the progress, says
IBF president and Star India CEO Uday Shankar.
That direct attack has not gone down well with the agencies.
The ball is in the IBF court and the draft document
(incorporating memorandum and articles of association) has
been sent to them a while back, states AAAI president
and Leo Burnett chairman and CEO Indian subcontinent.
But why will the media agencies be interested in delaying
the existence of BARC?
Maybe, the system is working for them. Only one-third
of the country is measured by TAM and for that they are getting
paid (by the broadcasters) for the whole of India. Television
advertising is, thus, cheaply priced and they are benefitting
from it, says the chief executive of a leading broadcaster
on condition of anonymity.
president and Leo Burnett chairman and CEO of India subcontinent
Arvind Sharma does not agree that the agencies do not want
a new ratings system as the current structure helps them drive
down prices. The belief that the only purpose is buying
cheap is not right. Clients have a very different agenda and
are interested in reaching out to their target audiences.
In a free market, pricing will definitely be an issue but
not the only one that matters, he says.
The root of the matter is that broadcasters, yielding to the
muscle power of the media agencies who have consolidated over
the years to gain size, want to strike a balance that will
enable them to get better pricing for their content as costs
have spiraled over the years. They have been unable to do
that for so many years but a new-found unity due to economic
compulsions has provided them with sufficient strength to
push for BARC.
Shankar, a newsman throughout his work life till Rupert Murdoch
made him the CEO of his highly successful media empire in
India, was quick to sense this changing pulse. Sharing a great
relationship with the son of Subhash Chandra and Zee Entertainment
Enterprises chief Punit Goenka, he played a main role in uniting
the broadcasters in this fight.
The benefit of that unity: broadcasters could get majority
stake in BARC and even went to the extent of excluding ISA.
They (IBF) first said why have ISA as a part of it (BARC).
That came as a stumbling block. But we are cooperating with
them and are not resisting anything that will genuinely protect
the interests of our clients and the industry as a whole,
says the head of a leading media agency who did not want his
name to be revealed.
When BARC was first mooted in March 2008, the ISA was kept
out of the shareholding structure. The IBF held 60 per cent
IBF and the remaining 40 per cent was with AAAI.
In the beginning, an ISA representative said they want
50 per cent share. Then it watered down to one-third of stake
with each body and they even said that they would not pay
for their equity holding. We were appalled by the suggestion
as it would have given the two of them a combined share of
two-third in the entity. We found that unacceptable and said
that if they made such demands, ISA could be kept out as the
interests of these two bodies are aligned and they want to
buy advertising cheap. Obviously, we didnt want IBF
to be outvoted. Since the ratings system is primarily for
a broadcast market and there is need for complete independence
of data, we didnt want any change in the construct of
the shareholding, says Shankar.
the power equation changed
So why did the agencies bend and come down to supporting BARC?
The government has stepped in and that has changed the
power equation, says the head of a broadcasting company.
The situation has, indeed, changed. When Zee raised its voice
against TAM in late 2001, alleging leakage and manipulation
of data, it appeared like a lone wolf wailing in the dark.
Few came in support and TAM CEO LV Krishnan then countered
that the channel did not raise the credibility issue when
it was enjoying higher TRPs (television rating points). Was
it because some other channels have an edge today, he
Even when Doordarshan clamoured for a wider representation
of measurement data that would be able to capture its kind
of mass audiences, it did not get support. Private broadcasters
were then busy eating into the audiences of the pubcaster
and expanding their own networks at a time when cable and
satellite television started penetrating wide and deep.
NDTVs allegations have, perhaps, caught more attention
as the broadcaster has not just moved the court but also filed
it in New York. It also cited an unidentified whistleblower
who seemed to have said that he accepted bribes from
TV channels and in turn paid bribes to TAM officials and to
some of the people who have allowed TAM to install peoplemeters
at their homes.
in Tier II and III towns demand expanded coverage
The embarrassment has come at a time when TAM is under pressure
to expand its coverage to smaller cities and get into more
demographic sampling. Indias growth is coming from tier
II and III towns, forcing companies to advertise and market
in these areas. Regional television channels and media are,
as a result, fostering faster growth.
In the last 3-4 years, hinterland India is where growth
is taking place. To make smart choices, media agencies need
data. There should be urgency in moving forward to get a new
measurement system in place that will be more representative
of the country, avers Sharma.
Niche channels, which have grown in numbers over the years,
are also feeling the heat and are wanting a ratings system
that would measure upscale audiences in greater intensity.
We would like a more healthy mix of sampling homes,
says the head of a niche channel.
News broadcasters are the biggest victims of this inadequate
representation and, saddled with exorbitant carriage costs
and loss-making businesses, are also the most vociferous.
They blame TAM and a weekly ratings reporting system for putting
their content under constant evaluation and pressure, leading
to a larger degree of commodification of news across networks.
is a general sense of dissatisfaction with the current ratings
system. This is what is throwing the whole pattern out of
gear. There is anarchy in data and we can notice the skews
in time spends and viewership trends between analogue and
digital homes. BARC will look for a more equitable basis of
data representation where there is more consistency,
says Sunil Lulla, MD and CEO of Times Television Network,
the holding company that runs a clutch of channels including
Times Now, ET Now, Movies Now and Zoom.
The time has, indeed, come for the TV ratings system to narrow
the gap in representation between bigger and smaller towns
and measure more equitably across the demographics and socio-economic
strata. BARC has set a target of reaching out to 30,000 homes,
much higher than TAMs current panel size of 8150 peoplemeters
with sample size of 36,000 respondents across 162 cities and
task at hand
For TAM to appease the broadcasters in particular, it will
have to first expand into more cities and add peoplemeters.
It is that basic. But to achieve that, it needs funding support
from the industry which has been in scarce flow so far.
The ratings measurement agency has set itself a target of
the coverage extending to over 225 towns with 10,000 peoplemeters
and 45,000 sample size (respondents). TAM also aims to expand
into the less than Class 1 India markets. Since 2009, it has
been covering Maharashtra in the Less than Class I
geographic stratum. To this stratum, it is now adding seven
more states: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal
Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP. These will be reported as individual
states except for Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh which
will, as usual, be reported together as PHCHP. TAM had announced
the plan of going rural in July 2012. This will add up another
1110 sample homes.
With this expansion, TAM believes it will practically complete
covering the entire urban stratum for the Hindi Speaking Market
BARCs ambition is much higher. An initial requirement
of 30,000 peoplemeters would require an investment of around
Rs 6.5 billion. For anybody to achieve that, TAM would need
the industry to drum up investment.
situation demands therapy. Publicis India CEO Nakul Chopra
believes there is a lot of scope for improvement. There
are issues on the sample size, methodology and industry-wide
acceptance. From that perspective, the time has come for treatment.
Let us forget the micro issues like corruption, integrity
and veracity of data, though it is a matter of grave concern
as there is a lot of time and energy agencies spend on strategising.
The truth is that the macro situation demands the existence
of a watchdog body like BARC, he says.
Screen Media president network sales, licensing & telephony
Rohit Gupta has suggested some immediate measures that need
to be taken. Right now it is TAMs word against
the worlds. We should have an audit process mandated
by the three bodies (IBF, AAAI and ISA) which would clear
a lot of smog. Also, BARC should get activated soon. Clients
should now wake up and put pressure on agencies.
The AAAI had a meeting with the IBF last week but no details
have been shared yet. I cant give any details
now. Wait for the announcement soon, says Sharma.
The NDTV lawsuit has acted as a stimulus. We should
approach the issue with a sense of urgency. All of us want
right and segmented data so that we make the right buying
decisions. After laying out the framework and working out
the costs, we will have to nail down the design and the vendor.
The only way a new currency can be produced is by working
together. Truth serves us best. Partial truth only lands all
of us in an unhappy place, says an expansive Sharma.
Lulla sums up the mood. We need to wake up and smell
the coffee, he says.