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Reasons for agreeing on no TAM data for nine weeks

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MUMBAI: Release of television viewership ratings in India has been suspended till 19 December to provide a stabilisation period after the compulsory switchover to digital delivery of channels happens from 1 November in the four metros.

TAM Media Research, the only television ratings service in India, will not report viewership ratings data for nine weeks ending on 8 December, following an agreement between the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA).

The three industry bodies and TAM, in a joint statement on Wednesday, announced their decision to suspend release of ratings for the entire country, after two days of intense discussions. IBF and TAM had earlier agreed to suspend television viewership ratings across the country, but other stakeholders’ nod was obtained over the last two days.

The broadcasting industry pushed hard for the suspension of ratings data as it felt that during the transition process from analogue signals to digital environment in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, there could have been discrepancies in TAM’s reporting of data, which could have had serious implications, particularly for the broadcasters, not only in terms of finance but also in terms of credibility.

TAM data for the period of suspension from 7 October to 8 December will be cureted and validated by a panel of experts from Nielsen/Kantar, owners of TAM, and a representative each from IBF, AAAI and ISA to ensure quality, consistency and integrity of processes and data, prior to its release on 19 December, along with ratings for the week beginning 9 December.

The statement said the deferment of release of data during the ‘switchover’ will ensure that TAM and all stakeholders have provided extended time for the on-ground situation to stabilise into a digital phase. This will help in ensuring the users take a longer-term view of data for decision-making. TAM has all its systems in place to ensure accurate data. TAM will anyway be communicating the steps it is taking in this regard to all stakeholders. All stakeholders are unanimous that consistency, quality and integrity of the data must be maintained.

What made industry decide on no TAM data?

Leo Burnett South Asia chairman and CEO, AAAI president and Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) chairman Arvind= Sharma says, “In the transition period, it is not a normal situation. How the data is projected in this period is what the IBF, AAAI and ISA are trying to figure out together. IBF for a variety of technical reasons thought that the purpose of digitisation will be best be served if the ratings are suspended throughout the country.”

Shedding light on why ratings will not be reported across the country, an industry insider said, “This is basically to give TAM time to look at all the variations that take place in the data. One of the arguments pushed forth was that data for metros be withheld. But there will be a certain number of channels for whom the metros are significant proportion of their viewership. In that case it would be incorrect that their ratings are not represented adequately.”

Viacom18 Media senior VP, GM English entertainment Ferzad Palia said, "Our aim is to ensure that nobody is unduly disadvantaged. We want the ratings system to be fine. Otherwise it defeats the purpose."

For genres like English channels, a large chunk of viewership comes from the four metros. "So it does not make sense to have data for the rest of the country and exclude the metros. An accurate representation should always be there," said Palia.

The roll-out of digitisation has already begun in the four metros. The analogue signals of all English movie channels was switched off on 10 October. Analogue signals of Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) were switched off for two hours between from 2 pm on Friday, 12 October, before going ahead with the switching off of analogue signals of more genres. In a letter to multi-system operators (MSOs), IBF president and Multi Screen Media CEO Man Jit Singh said analogue signals of Hindi movie channels will be switched off in the four metros from 11 pm on 15 October, followed by English, Hindi and business news channels from 11 pm on 18 October and Hindi GECs from 11 pm on 22 October.

The two-month suspension period will be used by TAM and the industry bodies to smoothen the transition. New Delhi Television CEO

Vikram Chandra said, “We welcome the decision of suspension of data. We think it is a good move as the process of digitisation can roll out without the issues that could be caused by ratings in this time. We sincerely hope that this two month period will be utilised by TAM to improve the nature of their product.”

Considering that the first attempt at digitisation in certain pockets in the metro cities failed, complete digitisation in the metros is a very important step for the government not just for the agencies or the advertisers.

As per law, cable digitisation is mandatory from 1 November in the four metros from 1 November.

Many in the industry are of the opinion that the suspension of data and the complications that it may cause are a short term compromise for a long term benefit. A senior official from a media agency says, “It would be very opportunistic to corner the broadcasters. It is a government policy and in a way the situation is beyond everyone’s control. It isn’t their doing. The good thing is that the entire industry has decided to come together and work this out.”

There are also questions being asked over the decision to suspend ratings release. An official from a leading channel network asks, “What happens is we will get a distorted data, but they will be giving it after nine weeks. The point is either you don’t give the data or give it now. What is the point in giving the data after 9 weeks?”

The suspension of TAM data comes at one of the peak times in the media business with the festival season having kicked off. So what happens to the deals and more importantly, what yard stick does one use for negotiations in this two month period?

Zeel chief sales officer Ashish Sehgal says, “Parameter is always the past data. Post evaluation happens after data comes out. Now they will analyse it 8 weeks later. The impact will not be on buying per say but may be on planning. And as far as big properties are concerned, it is festive season and the inventories are all sold out. And for shows like Sa Re Ga Ma all the initial ratings have come. So one has an idea how it will perform.”

Allied Media COO P M Balakrishnan said, "The entire realignment is just sinking in. The clients are beginning to try to figure out what will be a better option, whether to go off TV or use any other medium. Other mediums like print, OOH and radio will come into play, but there is no escaping from that visual and TV.Long term deals are easier to handle because there is a possibility of realignment but for short term deals there is a question mark. Everyone is still trying to understand what the best way is out."

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