Broadcasters versus TAM

BY sevanti ninan| IN Opinion | 13/06/2013
Behind the sporadic headlines on this long running fight between broadcasters and TAM, are a bunch of curious contradictions, even ironies,

Sevanti Ninan     

Unlike the political soap opera that played out in repetitive detail on the news channels, the other big fight of the fortnight, starring different elements of the media industry, was on hardly any channel. It was only covered in bits and pieces in the print media and on advertising and marketing websites. But it is a long running and sometimes hard to understand battle where the proponents seem sometimes to be wanting to score self goals. And it is difficult to be sure that the villain of the piece is always the same.

Last week some TV channels announced that they were not going to subscribe any more to the ratings data generated by the TV audience measurement agency TAM. Meaning that they would not pay that agency to measure their viewership, so that they could tell advertisers how much they are watched. TAM has a monopoly in the ratings market, NDTV went to court against it last year, and some eleven months after that Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM) that operates Sony, MAX, SAB and PIX channels; Times Global Broadcasting Co. Ltd, the news network that runs Times NOW and ET NOW; and NDTV Ltd have said that they are unsubscribing. 

Network 18 too has said they will follow suit. They think the system is broken, and they are not amused by occasional freaky ratings like the one that said recently that CNBC TV 18 had a rating of zero in a particular week.

The advertisers' response this week has been to say don't be so silly, how do you expect us to advertise on your channel when you go off the only measurement system there is? Behind the sporadic headlines on this long running fight between broadcasters and TAM, are a bunch of curious contradictions, even ironies. 

Till recently the complaint was that measuring television audiences in India was done with a ridiculously low sample, all based in class one cities. As few as 8000 people meters for some 153 million TV hhs in this country (2013 TAM universe figures). Entire states had no people meters partly because of the presumption that advertisers were not interested in those markets, so why invest in seeding sampling machines there and measuring them? 

So then TAM (which stands for television audience measurement) decided to expand the sample and by January this year introduced sampling from LC 1 (less than class 1) markets. In January 2013, TAM included a whole new set of towns across five regions - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (including Uttaranchal), Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, besides Maharashtra. With that TAM covers 92 per cent of the urban Hindi speaking markets (HSM), compared to the earlier 74 per cent. The new LC1 markets carry 20 per cent weight in the new HSM universe, among which Uttar Pradesh (UP) LC1 has the maximum weight.

But guess what, the bigger universe resulted in lower ratings for some channels because apparently small towns have different viewing habits, and circumstances, such as more power cuts, which affect the reliability of viewership reporting. Today you have a serious debate in this rarefied world of people who make their living by telling advertisers where to put their money. It is on whether or not power cuts are responsible for the uneven ratings coming in. Particularly for IPL. 

There is also serious discussion on how much UP small towns are the villain of the piece. Subtract them from the data and the IPL ratings go up. "One can see that the averages are being pulled down drastically by their inclusion," wrote one anaylst. Then he added, "The only good part of the story is that the advertisers and the media planners understand this situation. Brands ultimately don't come to IPL to cater to the LC1 markets."

So should snooty advertisers have a big say in limiting the sampling universe? Is a more inclusive measurement universe that goes beyond some 8000 people meters in class one cities desirable or not? And don't the general entertainment channels which thrive on soap operas and are the most desirable channels for advertisers, benefit when their popularity is also measured in small towns? 

Other stakeholders in this game include Prasar Bharati which went to the competition commission of India and complained that the measurement system did not reflect the audiences in more rural parts of the country. Meanwhile the regulator TRAI has decided it will draw up sampling norms for audience measurement. 

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation has another measurement currency in the works that will take time to surface. In the meantime will the broadcasters who have walked out be able to get advertising anyway? Will TAM and its chief reduce the weightage given to the smaller towns from 20 pc plus to five percent? No easy solutions in sight.

(Reprinted from Mint, June 13 2013)
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