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'Needed a new ratings currency'

She is one lady who doesn't hesitate in speaking her mind and believes in calling a spade a spade. In this article, penned for Indiantelevision.com, Lintas Media Group director Lynn de Souza strongly opines that with the fast-changing media landscape; either a new television ratings system needs to be in place or Tam India needs to pull up its socks and soon enough.

There can be no two ways about it. Our current television audience measurement system must transform itself radically, or go. In 2006, the Chinese year of the dog, I predict that the definition of television audiences itself will change - its measurement therefore must change too.

The term 'audience' is a passive one way thing. It conjures up images of 'lying back and thinking of England,' while the man in the box dishes it out. 'Viewership' is no different. It implies that the only sense one uses while interacting with one's television set is that of eyesight.

Digital TV and DTH will add sound and light and interactivity to the idiot box, making it as intelligent as our laptops and PDA's. Viewers have already piled on to the SMS response bandwagon in billions. Actively engaging oneself with the medium, finding the channels and programs that one identifies with - these are not just confined to the urban top end. Just as cellular technology gave us the ability to deliver reach in surprising quantities at one end, coupled with unforeseen quality in value added services at the other end, simply by enabling different types of receivers depending on what you can afford, so too will DTH do the same to television.

When audiences lie passive, one needs to use an active system to measure them. The peoplemeter we have been using till now does just that. A sample respondent has to punch a button before his viewership starts getting recorded and punch himself off when he stops viewing. When audiences turn active, the measurement system has to become passive - it has to have the ability to measure without interference. That's the first and important change. Canada has already moved into the portable peoplemeter system, and the successful Houston experiment will soon see the whole of the US questioning the longevity of the sweeps-cum-Nielsen meter approach.

The line between consumers as audiences and consumers as consumers will also blur, as television networks find themselves partnering advertisers more and more closely to deliver both content and consumers to each other. The Media Research User's Council has set up a special committee to look at measurement. This committee calls itself the Television Consumer Assessment Committee, recognizing that there will be no such thing as an audience in the near future. There will be only people who consume goods and services including television programming and interactive content.

This will lead to a third and very important change. Till now, India is one of the few countries where the measurement currency is advertising agency supported. Undoubtedly, this has had its roots in the historical support given to the TAM service by lead advertisers and agencies. The service has therefore built its strengths, skills and expertise in areas that would appeal to this community, developing and investing in tools and training systems largely geared to making better media planning decisions.

This unfortunately is a business model without a future. With the revenue models of media agencies already under threat, how can one expect this group of users to continue to fund and invest in this service and its growth? The megabucks have got to come from the networks - the creators and distributors of television signals. The megabucks will only come from this latter group if the service provides them answers to far more difficult marketing and consumer behaviour questions than a simple currency can provide. A currency based on a sample that does not even adequately cover India by a long shot.

The networks will not want fancy media planning software. They will want to know that even as the Indian sky gets clogged with more and more channels each getting less and less share, the system and the sample are robust enough to capture it all, in all its intricacies, with reliability and stability. They will want to know what makes television consumers come to a place and stay there. They will want expressions, not impressions.

And guess what? So will the advertiser and his media agency.

Happy New Year, TAM! It's high time you got yourself a new collar.

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