Television

Indian TV B'casters: 'TAM'ing TV ratings

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 Does the Indian TV broadcast industry want TAM? In one word, the answer is No. Definitely not in the form and manner it is monitoring TV viewership in India. Definitely not the kind of viewership numbers it has been spewing out for them week by week. The major Indian TV broadcast networks have already shown their utter disgust and disregard for its TV ratings by closing their checkbooks on TAM.

On almost every front, the Indian TV broadcasters - through the IBF - have been flexing their muscles and showing that they mean business. And they have been sorting out troublesome issues: like striking a wage accord with TV industry technicians; setting set up a self-regulatory mechanism when government wanted to muzzle the media; getting the advertising industry to agree to net billing after the government demanded taxes for the gross advertising agency bills it used to make payments on.

But one of the most vexatious issues it has been grappling with is the TV rating‘s one. And now that the lights have been put out on TAM, what now for the broadcast industry? What are the options before it? Let us take a look at a couple of them:

*For one they can continue with TAM Media. However, they can give TV ratings a hiatus for a couple of months. It‘s quite possible the chaos that is happening on account of analogue shutoffs and digital set top box switch-ons, will settle down and the ratings will stabilise in that period. They can also dialogue with TAM and ask it to get back to basics and do an establishment survey once again (if possible), represent the peoplemeters appropriately in power-lit areas in LC1, rather than in power-dark areas. And finally, take a closer look at the entire process of churning out ratings that happens every week, through a committee constituted for the very purpose.

There is a possibility that we could end up with a period of no TV ratings in India if issues are not sorted out by all concerned. How long that period will be is not clear (some say it could be until BARC comes up), but broadcasters will need to get advertisers and agencies' support for their decision. So far, both have said they are not comfortable with ratings going away, and have spoken up for TAM.

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With all major B‘casters unsubscribing from TAM TV ratings, only time will tell if the viewers‘ true choice can be reflected with the emergence of BARC

* Or if this is not working out forget that TAM exists, cut off its blood supply, and watch it gradually bleed and die. Come up with a viewership metric that works in the interim for all concerned - broadcasters, advertisers and agencies - and allows the business of communicating brand messages through television for a fee to continue.

The broadcast industry is torn between the two options. The first has been done before between October and December 2012 and it was painless for all concerned and allowed TAM to continue its existence in a profitable manner. 

The second option, while it appears the easier one to see through, comes with its set of challenges.

The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC)‘s TV ratings system seems nearly a year away and could take longer to get to the levels of coverage TAM is providing now. Unless, under the leadership of Puneet Goenka and Partho Dasgupta, BARC manages to do an Ambani on the system and get the establishment survey, the constitution of the sample, the installation of the meters, the development of the software, the stabilisation of the findings and everything down stream thereof completed in super record time. Most advertisers and agencies have been optimistic about BARC.

Industry can learn some lessons from the experience of Turkey in 2011. Turkey‘s broadcasters and the industry shut down the ratings service run there by AGB Nielsen in late December 2011, amidst allegations of corruption, which were denied by the ratings service provider. The industry body - The Television Audience Research Committee (TIAK) - prematurely severed its contract with AGB and urged TNS - part of the WPP Group‘s Kantar Research - to set up an alternative ratings system which finally got going in May 2012 with a 1000 peoplemeter panel, as against 2,500 people meters earlier.

Industry can learn some lessons from the experience of Turkey which faced a ratings blackout in 2011. During the blackout TV ad rates and prices were determined by using average ratings from the month before the shutdown, combined with monthly share performance from the whole of the year.

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In the interim, adage.com reported in March 2012 that life went on for Turkish advertisers, agencies and broadcasters though the "TV-buying system has since been in shambles. Without reliable new-audience measurement data, prices have been determined by using average ratings from the month before the scandal erupted, combined with monthly share performance from the whole of 2011. The industry is working to regain media agencies‘ and advertisers‘ trust."

Agreed, we are not questioning the ethics of TAM in India, though many have hurled allegations against it. There is a possibility that we could end up with a period of no TV ratings in India if issues are not sorted out by all concerned.

How long that period will be is not clear (some say it could be until BARC comes up), but broadcasters will need to get advertisers and agencies‘ support for their decision. So far, both have said they are not comfortable with ratings going away, and have spoken up for TAM.

With reason. Two or three months without TAM mean they will have little data to support a TV advertising expenditure between Rs 3,600-4,200 crore. That‘s not an amount you can sniff away.

Hence, all three will have to come to the table and agree on a performance metric to justify the expenditure and offer some accountability. Could the Turkish media industry‘s interim solution during the TV ratings shutdown there be adapted to work in India?

Broadcasters are slated to huddle very soon (either this week or next) to get some consensus on which route they will take. Some broadcast CEOs have been travelling and hence have not been able to get together.

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