Government mulls probe against TAM after complaints

02 Aug,2012

By A Correspondent

 

The government is planning to launch a probe into the alleged fudging of television viewership data by TAM Media Research after several complaints from broadcasters.

 

A top official in the Union information and broadcasting ministry, who did not want to be identified, said the government has received a lot of complaints about TAM in the past. “A lot of people have been raising concerns because of which we are looking at TAM very carefully. We will soon take some action,” he added.

 

Broadcaster New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV) sued The Nielsen Co, a global research and information firm, and Kantar Media Research, equal partners in

TAM Media, for tampering with TV viewership data to favour broadcasters who allegedly bribed executives in their Indian JV.

 

NDTV, which owns the news channels NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India, filed the suit in the New York State Supreme Court seeking damages of around $1.4 billion for negligence and fraud, and hundreds of millions more for interference and breach of fiduciary duty.

 

Advertisers and media agencies in India depend on TAM data – the only available measurement for TV viewership – to negotiate ad rates. Any discrepancy in the data would have resulted in losses for several broadcasters, advertisers and ad agencies.

 

News of NDTV’s lawsuit has created ripples in the media industry, with several broadcasting firms and advertising agencies saying this has only established what has been an “open secret” in the industry for a while, but this could be an opportunity to set things right.

 

“I have always been saying that the TAM data is all wrong, fudged. And I have not changed my views on this,” said Subhash Chandra, chairman of Essel Group, which runs several TV channels under the Zee banner.

 

“The allegations, which NDTV has made against TAM, are very serious in nature. It is a matter of concern for the broadcast industry. The industry in the past has raised issues like small sample size used by TAM. Even as a company, we have several times taken up issues with them.

 

For example, we questioned them on this year’s IPL ratings. Given the large crowd in the stadiums we had imagined the ratings to be much more than what were released by TAM,” said Manjit Singh, CEO of MSM India, which runs the Sony and Max channels.

 

Mr Singh added that MSM has taken up the issue with TAM. “They do come back with explanations but they may not always be satisfactory,” he said.

 

In its 194-page lawsuit, NDTV claims that it had confronted Nielsen with evidence of data manipulation, including taped meetings with TAM India employees, which showed that they were willing to tamper data for bribes. Nielsen, according to NDTV, admitted in meetings and through emails that its data was being manipulated and that it was willing to address the issue by July 1, 2012.

 

NDTV says that Nielsen continued to publish these ratings despite repeated demands to stop distribution of TAM TV ratings until the sample size was increased and a proper security mechanism was put in place.

 

Another broadcaster told ET that it has taken up with TAM the issue of aberrations appearing in the time spent per viewer (TSV) numbers derived from TAM data several times.

 

“We have raised concerns about skewed TSV patterns in select markets. It could be because of discrepancy at the ground level. But there has been no action from TAM,” a top executive at the broadcaster said.

 

“We are totally disappointed at the lack of responsibility shown by TAM in dealing with this issue,” another broadcaster said, adding he has lodged a complaint with the I&B ministry about the fudged data.

 

Most of the discrepancy is due to the small sample size, say experts and industry insiders. The current system is highly susceptible to manipulation. It is easy to manipulate the findings to distort the eventual numbers published by TAM, said one person.

 

“I cannot say for sure if bribes are involved. But numbers are distorted without any logic and go unexplained. And it is easy to distort the numbers to favour someone,” he added.

 

A media planner who did not wish to be identified said this is a chance to revive the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) that was proposed by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation a few years ago. The government should also implement the Amit Mitra committee recommendations that talked about irregularities in the current measurement system.

 

 

Source: The Economic Times

Copyright © 2012, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

 

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