Atul Phadnis: Industry must not duck core issues on measurement

01 Aug,2012

By Atul Phadnis


Atul Phadnis

All of us have read the astonishing news of a lawsuit in recent days in a New York court making allegations on the efficacy, integrity of TV Ratings in India. A lot of us in the TV Broadcast industry have perhaps turned to our nearest industry colleague the moment we heard this news and blurted – “See! I told you that something like this was going to happen one day!!”


Unfortunately, for the entire TV industry this is bad timing when already nerves are frayed with the Cable Digitalization issue! I would consider this development as a time to reflect on how we, the TV sector, have got into this position and how all of us collectively have been responsible for the mess with TV measurement.


Lets look at the key questions that need answers urgently before more damage is done that could potentially destabilize ad revenue structures within the industry.


The Burgeoning Issues with TV Ratings

There is no doubt that there have been problems associated with the way TV Ratings have been measured in recent years. Some of the methodology related issues have also played their part in getting things down to this latest litigation :-


1. For instance, take the issue on the validity of some of the parameters used to select sample homes. More than a decade ago, a panel quota system called Primary Control Variables was introduced with 5 main factors to select panel homes. Some of the parameters have remained unchanged in spite of their doubtful use in recent times.

2. One such question that needs to be asked in this regard – do we still have Colour versus Black & White TV sets – as one of the factors? If yes, is this factor relevant at all today? And by sampling on irrelevant factors what sort of panel would be constructed? If this is not a factor any more then what’s replaced this? Has industry approved (or is aware of) a new sampling methodology?

3. Do we still sample homes on the basis of Terrestrial versus Satellite? Should the Satellite sampling not be modified to sampling within these homes by Cable/ DTH players-wise market-shares? Not having this correction means dreadful, crazy results for certain channel genres. Again ignorance is bliss for the industry at large with this question not being asked.

4. Why should the 600th or the 650th channel be reported for minute-by-minute ratings by market and by target group? Are we not playing with fire with samples for that 600th channel down to 1 or 2 or 5 people within the panel! In fact, this sort of low samples thresholds could also make any research system extremely fragile and vulnerable for interference by external forces.

5. A continuation to the earlier point is that why should India not follow the practice from other mature markets wherein channels falling below a sample threshold are not reported for certain analysis types. So you may get weekly Channel Reach but not minute-by-minute viewership sliced by markets and target audiences.


So the question that begs answers is – how can we continue the panel home selection and reporting on criteria, parameters and rules that are a decade old? These need to be contemporized with todays realities. And with industry support and consensus.



Incidentally, at this stage I must ask you, the reader, to mourn for a minute, the sad, silent demise of the Joint-Industry-Body. The JIB that had taken birth in the early nineties to guide TV measurement initiatives in our industry passed away a couple of years ago. His daughter – the Industry Technical Committee, who oversaw critical issues such as panel home selection methodology, technology selection decisions also had an untimely death. They both died waiting for its members to come to their rescue.



BARC – The Puzzling Enigma

A lot of folks will recall enthusiastic announcements several moons ago about the creation of BARC – a joint initiative by three industry associations. The promise was to create a new TV Ratings system with the circulation of RFPs, finally leading to a Tendering and Commissioning process. The puzzling part that was unaddressed or unclear in the BARC strategy was what happens to the here-&-now even as the new system comes about. Read on…


1. For instance, why could industry not take control of the way TV Ratings are being done today? One Option would be for the top 5 Media Agencies and TV networks to pool their current TV Ratings deals to pursue a unified conversation with the data supplier.

2. Why should industry as a first step not address the ‘here-&-now’ issues and ask for weekly panel KPIs from the incumbent measurement company? Panel health indicators, number of suspect samples and observations, past complaints and their explanations – could easily be taken up in a structured manner. Why should everything rest on the ‘utopian’, ideal system that might take another 1 or 2 or 3 years to come by?

3. What will it take for some of the allegations and accusations being made routinely in private quarters to be audited by an independent, neutral organization? Why cannot BARC be the redressal body to sort issues relating to TV measurement? After all it has the support (and mandate) from IBF, ISA and AAAI. If an effective redressal system existed would any player have gone to court in the first place?


Agency Media Buyers : faith beyond belief!

That the average media buyer considers TV Ratings outputs as the gospel truth is well known. Imagine this guy (or gal) who is perhaps sitting in the agency at 10pm churning data for the 633rd ranked channel. The analysis is minute-by-minute viewership for Jharkhand, SEC AB, 15-24 years and is being done since the Buying Head has a meeting with that Channel’s team the next morning.


At that precise moment what should have happened is Helicopter Gunships should have descended on the rooftops of that agency, Black-Cat commandos should have whooshed in through the AC ducts and screamed at that buyer “STOP! You cannot look at min-by-min trends for a microscopic market-audience for the 633rd ranked channel!”. But none of these stunts will happen. The Buying Head will receive the analysis in time for the meeting and will happily use that data to negotiate ad rates, oblivious to ludicrously low sample sizes! Sad, but true.



My last word on this is that – as an industry if we continue ducking the main, fundamental issues in this space we will keep having disturbances that hit at the revenue stability and predictability that measurement brings in. It’s finally our choice – yours and mine!


Atul Phadnis is CEO, Whats-On-India. He has been associated with all aspects of the measurement process – as a media planner, employee of TAM, a broadcaster and now a technocrat


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