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'Ratings data still best indicator of audience preferences'

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Whatever may be their shortcomings perceived or otherwise, data that ratings agencies provide still give the best possible understanding of the viewing profile was a point that was forcefully stressed at the session - Research and Consumer Behaviour, on the concluding day of Ficci Frames 2002 in Mumbai. "Numbers are only characters until they talk to you," said Tarun Katyal, V-P, programming Star India, making the point that while qualitative research is important, what is essentially a creative endeavour - the business of programming, required an emotional connect to the viewer and often one has to go with gut feel.

Qualitative research is invaluable to any organisation trying to read into trends as far as consumer behaviour is concerned as well as in putting a fix on how the future directions were concerned, was a point all the panellists agreed on.

Pradeep Hejmady, director, research, said that whether it was programming, distribution or ad sales and marketing, there was a need for proper data based on which decisions could be made. On distribution - penetration, nature of market (whether the population owned primarily B/W or colour TVs) were some of the issues that were important. As for ad sales - the target audience, profile matching, a brand's day part coverage strategy, etc were all seen as important elements.

To sum up, Hejmady said research aids in transformation of a mission into a quantifiable time bound goal

Speaking about the merger of the ratings systems which was to take effect in June, LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM media research said that post unification from 3454 homes (covering 18,000 individuals) the number would go up to 5800 in next 18 months for the 49 cities that the two ratings systems (the other being ORG MARG's INTAM service) cover. On the issue of replenishment of peoplemeters, Krishnan said this was at 20 per cent, which is twice what is recommended in Europe

Krishnan, pointed to the last mile connectivity as being crucial to a channel's (and by extension the programmes it aired) reach. The number of people reached by the programme was closely linked to the band that the cable operator placed a channel on, Krishnan said.

In the prime band (first 12 channels) - a channel receives virtually 100 per cent accessibility. Citing examples, Krishnan said B4U Music quickly reached parity with MTV in many areas because cable ops placed it on the prime band.

ETV Bangla gained huge audience reach not just because of its election coverage but because it was placed on the prime band by cable ops, Krishnan said.

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