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Contesting a monthly ratings system for news channels

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Television news broadcasters are pressuring for a monthly ratings system that will free their content from being weighed on a weekly basis, but advertising agencies do not seem to be in agreement.


News Broadcasters Association (NBA), an umbrella body of TV news channels, has decided that the weekly ratings for all national news and business channels in Hindi and English should be done on a monthly basis from next month.


The NBA board feels that this will improve news broadcasting standards as "coverage and reportage of news and programmes cannot always be linked to popularity or audience measurement".


India‘s ratings agency TAM, however, has not yielded yet. Though in dialogue with the NBA, TAM wants consensus from the other stakeholders like the IBF, AAAI and ISA who are also users of the same central TAM database.


Said TAM Media Research CEO LV Krishnan, "It is imperative for NBA to first discuss their proposal with other industry bodies. Only after this should one arrive at an overall industry consensus on the frequency of TAM data reporting. TAM will require written approvals from each of the member’s industry bodies on the decision taken with respect to the change in frequency of data reporting. Till the time we receive a formal overall approval from all stakeholders of the TAM database, no decisions on the change in current frequency of reporting will be taken."


Building a consensus will not be easy. Leo Burnett Chairman of India Sub-Continent Arvind Sharma said, "Advertising agencies will oppose such a move. To make a more informed decision, an advertiser needs transparent, frequent and current data. Moving to a monthly ratings system will not allow us to read patterns. It is not a progressive move."


News broadcasters argue that their content is distinct from other genres as they have a responsibility to inform and empower their viewers with quality programming and dissemination of news rather than providing content merely for garnering viewership. News broadcasting standards can only improve with time spent on strategic planning and research rather than knee jerk reactions taken on a weekly basis.


NBA wants TAM to introduce the monthly ratings system initially for a period of two years. Regional news channels could be brought under this system on a later date.


Speaking to Indiantelevision.com, several senior executives said on condition of anonymity that agencies look at 4-13 week data when they make advertising deals for their clients. "There is no revision in rates done after a deal is inked. So there is no reason for them to be upset," a top official said.
The NBA also clarified in an official statement that the initiative taken by it would not in any way hamper the decision making of advertisers and advertising agencies.


"In the new monthly dispensation, advertisers would continue to get access to data broken down to a minute or a day-part or a specific programme in a manner similar to how data points are currently accessed in the weekly format," it said.


Sharma, however, disagrees. "News channels are indirectly saying that more frequent information (weekly ratings data) makes their content worse. This seems to be built on an unsound premise," he said.


Added Madison Media Group CEO Punitha Arumugam, "The same data getting reported on a monthly basis instead only delays the decision making process."


Will a monthly ratings system clean up content? "This will certainly reduce pressure on the editors," said Pankaj Pachauri, NDTV Managing Editor - Special Projects and VP of the Broadcast Editors Association. "Editors were often constrained to make last minute changes in the fixed point charts or the content of the various news programmes on the basis of weekly TAM reports."

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