Television Audience Measurement: What next?

Yesterday, BARC took a decisive step forward. Punit Goenka in his role as Chairman, BARC announced the issuance of a Request for Information or RFI from entities worldwide who might be interested in participating in the forthcoming Request for Proposal stage.

While the television rating system in India has shown great durability and adaptiveness, the pace of growth and change in the television landscape has consistently outstripped it. BARC is premised on finding and adopting best-in-class tools, technologies and processes that will not just close the gap, but create a constantly evolving and, thus, future ready audience measurement infrastructure.

Here are the challenges that the new system will be expected to meet and overcome.

1. Comprehensiveness: Television reaches very nearly two-thirds of all households in India. As economic development continues apace and more people have discretionary income, entertainment and information start assuming increasing prominence in their scheme of things. A cable-connected television is, and will remain, the least expensive single-point source of meeting this need, and new consumers waste little time in acquiring it.

The household is now exposed to content but also to advertising that becomes a potent driver of new demand for a range of previously unknown products and services. Over the last decade, almost 10 million new households have entered the television footprint every year and the number doesn't appear to be slowing down yet. A comprehensive measurement system must be able to recognise these burgeoning television households and keep them in the sights of broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies.

2. Accuracy: There has been talk over the years of making broadcasters more accountable for audience deliveries. A number of deals are done on the basis of cost-per-rating-point (CPRP) but broadcasters have, rightly, complained that fair valuation of their inventory would have to be based on cost-per-thousand (CPT) or, as the print media call it, the mille rate. The current system falls some ways short of being able to facilitate the change from CPRP to CPT. Marketeers and broadcasters are looking forward to a system where actual audience deliveries in a defined target audience can be accurately quantified so that accountability for audiences can be fixed and reciprocally paid for.

3. Adaptiveness: We still talk of single television homes as being the dominant model in India. Apparently, we are oblivious of the emergence of second and third screens that are being used by the younger demographic for consuming what was previously available exclusively on the television in the family room. The emergence of the smartphone and more recently of new devices like tablets (or even more recently, the rather inelegantly named 'phablets') has placed new content consumption devices in the hands of millions of young consumers. Content is now available to be consumed not just at a location but while on the move. Just like cellular telephony transformed communication from locational to personal, these screens and a constantly improving wireless broadband infrastructure are transforming television. The imminent arrival of 4G and crashing tablet prices will place highly mobile content consumption devices in millions of hands. The audience measurement system must be able to capture such mobile content consumption and stay adaptive with every future transformation of the television environment.

4. Auditability: Being owned and managed by BARC, a joint industry body (or JIB in the pro parlance), stakeholders will have audit rights over the system that can ask searching questions about every aspect of the process, thus ensuring its integrity and ethical standards. All the key stakeholders are represented within BARC and this will ensure that the system remains always true, fair and transparent.

These are not challenges unique to India but are faced universally by every television audience measurement system. Responses to the RFI will unearth a great body of valuable knowledge that the BARC can use to start building a gold standard system in India.

It is good to finally say this: BARC has BITE.

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