By Invitation | Atul Phadnis: Will TV measurement in India finally get its logical direction?

02 May,2012

By Atul Phadnis


In March this year, three industry associations that have a significant say in television broadcast and TV advertising jointly announced a new chapter in the TV Ratings Measurement initiative. Broadcast audience Research Council (BARC) is the joint venture that has been in discussion, for the longest time, between the three stakeholder associations – Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Indian Society of advertisers (ISA) and the advertising agencies association of India (AAAI) to measure nationwide TV audience viewership. BARC has taken birth where a lot of earlier industry initiatives have failed to take off – hence, a lot of folks (including me) are watching these events very closely and curiously.


Yes. There are cynics who doubt whether the BARC initiative will be able to streamline the industry ambitions for a wider and robust TV audience measurement thereby recasting/enhancing the offerings of the current ratings provider – TAM Media Research (a joint venture between Nielsen and Kantar-WPP).


The genuine fear is that the industry initiative will again slow down or worse – get delayed due to lack of clarity or infighting amongst the associations/players. It’s a legitimate concern based on what we have seen in the past. In fact, the recent announcement has been possible only when a formula for compromise was reached after months of stalemate on the BARC shareholding and composition of its board.


The genesis of the industry initiative that has now taken birth as BARC has in its vision the Rs329 billion TV industry that to a large extent depends on ratings and viewership information for key decisions, growth and business. So what are the key expectations of the industry that should get addressed if BARC is the answer to the TV industry’s call on TV Ratings?


1. The Burden of Transparency

For years now, TAM has been criticized, publicly and privately, for alleged opaque policies relating to aspects such as third-party audits, pricing, technology R&D results and panel performance KPIs. as is the case with any competitive industry bustling with cut-throat competition, rumor mills and conflicting agendas of different players, the transparency burden had been conveniently dumped on TAM. after all, we do see from time-to-time the so-called ‘open letters’ that certain channels would send out to TAM asking for explanations on why their blockbuster programs did not do well in terms of TRPs. Irrespective of where the answers for failure lie, these occasions, nonetheless, cast all sorts of aspersions on the trading currency and are hardly constructive. I haven’t seen a single such instance over the last decade produce any positive reaction – either in providing more answers on causality nor a bettering of the ratings system. and these instances surely can’t be healthy for the industry that has dependencies on advertising that in turn needs TV measurement.


It’s high time the industry associations, perhaps via BARC, put their necks on the block and take frontal onus and responsibilities on transparency elements that will boost confidence on TV Ratings. Not only will this sharing of burden save the industry the blushes in front of the advertisers, it will also have a correctional effect with the routine debates being laid to rest. Hopefully, BARC is able to bring in transparency by defining deliverables and quality parameters clearly to the Ratings vendor(s) in the new scheme of things.


2. Evolving data reporting policies

Transparency in KPIs will also have an effect on how TV ratings data should be reported in our industry. There are a host of mature markets, in particular theUK, that have a threshold viewership criteria for TV program ratings to meet; if those numbers have to be reported in the weekly data. This ensures that viewership estimates for very small channels and very niche programs inside very small market groups are not reported. However, in our market, if the 700th channel gets launched tomorrow, TV ratings for that channel for very small markets and microscopic audience definitions will be available. Lack of industry understanding and consensus has stopped from any policy to take shape and solidify in this specific issue. This, in turn, has led to a sad saga of inexplicable rating fluctuations for specialist channel genres in small markets/ audiences. With the BARC coming in, certain wise old men (and women) can roll out this policy of releasing viewership numbers of only those channels and programs that are in the permissible and acceptable error level range.


3. Structural changes in panel construction

The methodology for TV Ratings in India- especially the way panel homes are selected from a neighborhood has remained largely the same. The criteria is defined through Primary Control Variables, a system to carve out quotas of what sort of homes should be selected to enter the panel. However, the dramatic changes that have occurred in the last 5 years – that of DTH now forming a large part of the TV universe – requires the Primary Control Variables to reflect an acceptance of that new reality. Earlier, say 8-10 years ago, cable monopolies in a neighborhood within an area, city or town ensured homogeneity of received signals in spite of the heterogeneity of viewing. That signal homogeneity within the neighborhoods would ensure that thousands of homes within that area would receive the same input from their cablewallah into their TV sets. Today that cable structure lies shattered wherein one single neighborhood would have the cablewallah’s analogue signal in certain homes, his digital (CAS) box in certain households as well as scores of homes with DTH connections from 7 DTH providers.


Now layer this information on the specific channels or channel packs subscribed by DTH or Digital Cable viewers – and you have a distribution complexity that snarls into existence, dramatically affecting TV viewership. This distribution factor needs to be well modeled inside the Primary Control Variables to construct the panel. It is not there at the moment and neither has there been an active industry debate on how to bring newer factors such as these into the panel construction/ panel design exercise.


4. Critical Measurement/ Panel Decisions (including R&D, Technology)

Consumer patterns of TV consumption are dramatically changing with the advent of set-top-boxes, recorders, mobile TV, and so on. Viewing is also happening when people are on the move rather than only in-home TV viewing. In India, ratings are reported only for in-home TV viewing. TV consumption on mobiles, tablets, IPTV, computers or outside-of-home is unmeasured. If these new patterns need to be measured, a significant emphasis would be needed on R&D. This R&D and Trial Panels have to be budgeted by a vibrant industry determined to capture every viewing instance so as to analyse and eventually monetize those audiences. It would be a disappointment and a terrible waste if BARC did not have this early in its agenda.


5. TV Measurement Vision

It might seem unbelievable but it is true – the largest customers and users of TV ratings info today do not have a common goal or vision for the future of TV measurement in our market. Issues such as Rural versus Urban, increase coverage vis-a-vis better representation, upscale versus mass-market – would find distinctly different views within the industry. In the absence of a common vision, the strategy to expand, enhance, improve the measurement system is clearly not going to be very effective. With a forum like BARC, the attempt should be to collectively define the vision as well as the timelines and path to attaining that goal by mobilizing opinion and the industry war-chest. This is, perhaps, the most crucial aspect of the success or failure of BARC, the failure of which would risk reducing this initiative into a rudderless and spineless wonder.


6. CPM versus CPRP

In the last few years, broadcasters have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to correct a long standing trading currency aberration in our industry. While the world uses CPMs (Cost per thousand ad impressions) to price benchmark TV ad inventory, our market has erroneously got locked into CPRPs (Cost Per Rating Points) – thanks to the myopic vision of media agency AORs of the 90s. While the entire industry (including media agency heads who publicly oppose change but privately admit its fairness) wants transition to the correct trading currency, the longstanding question has been who will do it first on both ends – advertisers and channels. Perhaps with BARC, the opportunity is in planning that roll-out as a coordinated industry action.


7. Redressal Forum

One of the biggest opportunities for BARC is to streamline the custom arguments, debates and requirements that individual players have on TV ratings into an ever evolving bucket of policies. In the current scheme of things, individual players have their differences with the TV ratings company, but not really have an escalation route to get their views heard. These issues range from pricing (dis)parity to use of raw data to choice of ratings software to conflicting TAM’s policy of not selling their data to certain client categories. Perhaps the most common arguments relate to unexplained fluctuations and peaks-troughs in the ratings data.


BARC would be better served to pursue an approach built on open, transparent debates and a clever commercial policy in such instances that might see lesser open issues but greater revenues into the industry kitty.


Summing up…

The above piece is my attempt to get a constructive dialogue out in the open on a matter that deeply concerns TV Media professionals cutting across organizational lines. I personally have tremendous respect for professionals in this stream including those within the TAM Executive team as well as the industry folks driving the BARC initiative. It is my sincere hope that a constructive dialogue followed by clear and rapid forward actions by stakeholders leads to the World’s finest and biggest TV measurement initiative! amen…


Atul Phadnis is Chief Executive, WHAT’S-ON-INDIA


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3 responses to “By Invitation | Atul Phadnis: Will TV measurement in India finally get its logical direction?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Atul, as usual you have covered the issue with the comprehensiveness it deserves.

  2. Abc says:

    Piece is fairly balanced. The article gives a lot of new info rather than just the cliched, usual ‘increase sample size’ message.

  3. Ajay Kumar Ramanuja says:

    Kudos to Atul for unfurling the complex matrix of measurement currency of TV. Timely wake-up call this.
    There is so much to do to get a broad-based acceptance of the impending currency/measurement system and it’s reporting.

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