Allegations hurt: L V Krishnan

10 Jun,2013

 

This isn’t the first time that a media measurement agency has been in the eye of a storm. We’ve seen many instances in the case of the print media in the past and ever since the stakes have raised, the same holds true for broadcast. In the business for around 15 years, Television Audience Measurement (TAM) Media Research was set up as jv by global research giants Nielsen and Kantar, the latter being a division of advertising conglomerate WPP. L V Krishnan has been at the helm of TAM and weathered many storms, including the one last year where NDTV took TAM and its principals to court. But this one appears to be more serious than ever before with three broadcast networks pulling the plug on the subscription. MxMIndia’s Pradyuman Maheshwari chatted with L V Krishnan on the broadcast measurement business, the various charges raised and what according to him is the way forward.

 

With some networks opting out, another large one said to have put you on notice, the IBF issuing an advisory and a few others also mulling an exit, is it an end-game for TAM? How does TAM see the journey from here on?

Globally, we know of many instances where the TV broadcast industry’s faith on its neutral and central audience measurement service has gone through fluctuations. Understandably so. As much as we want the clients to focus on audience insights and analytics, the story, starts and ends with the bi-product of report card/rankings. What comes to the rescue and resolve of such situations is when the central media audience measurement provider works very closely with the industry body.

 

This current impasse has got created because of years of pending, constructive and participative dialogue between industry constituents and us. For years now, at almost every industry forum or during one on one client meetings, TAM has been appealing to the industry clients to create a central wish list or a common brief of aspects that it would like TAM to address. The idea was that, post their revert, we would submit a blue print of Television Audience Measurement. This would cover the required sampling, methodology, technology etc. Unfortunately, years have passed, not a single common brief has reached us. Having said that, this never discouraged or stopped us from re-attempting to get them together for this purpose.

 

At the same time, we never stopped short of attempting to complete the dream of trying to measure the width and depth of this country. We are happy to say TAM today measures the whole of Urban in North and West and looking at the Rural frontier closely, a vision that TAM has and what has been indicated earlier by some of the industry constituents as well as the government committees.

 

Also, as a market, we are yet to mature to a level where the audience measurement service provider will be revered and cherished. We will continue to be the bad messengers…for some more time to come. Here I must add that funnily enough, we have seen innumerable occasions in the past 15 years of our existence when broadcasters haven’t had an iota of an issue when their respective ratings and rankings looked good. The issue has always been when the same system showed low rating and ranking numbers.

 

The current situation requires patience and we have plenty of it! Meanwhile, our parents – Nielsen and Kantar – have supported us all these years and they will continue to do so.

 

There are allegations from the industry that TAM has been responsive to industry concerns Your comments.

The case cannot be settled unless we are actually proven to be guilty! I would like to appeal and ask for documented evidence from the self-claimed aggrieved parties where TAM has not responded. Till then, allegations will continue to be baseless. We have a 50-member team set up only to address client queries and concerns. That is a part of any basic Customer Service one should expect, isn’t it? TAM has always responded to queries, and been transparent on its methodologies.

 

In this specific case as well, yes, both Sony and Times Now did raise issues. As a normal practice, we did respond to them very clearly. So I don’t really see any reason for such a drastic and regressive move. In each of the meetings, we have explained issues and suggested means.

 

Also, we have always maintained professional relationship with the clients. Which is why, we also made it a point that we communicate with them directly and not via media. Every query of theirs’ has been addressed professionally and promptly through one-on-one meetings. The question is that did they reciprocate in a similar fashion?

 

With no money from broadcasters, will TAM be able to survive just from your promoters and monies from media agencies?

As much as 80% of the revenue comes from broadcasters, but they also derive maximum value from the data… a lot more than what a media agency would. The data can be used for programming, distribution, sales, scheduling and migration of audience to competitive content, marketing or on-air promotions etc. (see box: 10 ways in which TAM has benefited broadcasters).

 

Having said this, we’ll see how it goes, step by step. We aren’t averse to any subscriber wanting to use data, even for periods they have not subscribed to at a later stage.

 

One of the oft-repeated charge is of sample size… how can a sample of 8000-odd be used to reflect viewing behaviour of a billion-plus population?

 

The key question is that what is an ideal sample size? More than two years back, TAM worked closely with the FICCI Amit Mitra Committee report to arrive at the projected or required sample size of 30,000 and we are still waiting for the funding…

 

While for the last 15 years, we have been the central and neutral TV audience measurement service, the key point here is that we were appointed by the stakeholders – advertisers, broadcasters and media agencies – with a promise of getting funded. While we specialize in research, conducting and operating it requires funds. My question is, why is TAM always blamed for small sample sizes? We have over these years, built the sample to 9500 Peoplemeters with whatever funding we could muster from our parent companies and subscribers. Today, we cover 225 towns in urban India, covering the entire urban landscape of north and west markets. Why is nobody speaking about what TAM has achieved for the industry even without any guaranteed funding? Good technology and large sample sizes require funds. Let industry open more funds, we will deliver their dreams.

 

The other charge is transparency and methodology…

 

What is their definition of transparency? If it means being transparent about methodology, well, we have always made sure that our methodologies are vetted by industry bodies and individual stakeholders before they are implemented. Take the latest case of DAS-1 roll out. TAM has been in constant touch and discussion with the Core Industry Committee (CIC) on methodology and its implementation. TAM took them through the detailed dynamics of data generation and reporting. It was only post that, the data was released for usage.

 

In April, Phase 2 of DAS was put into effect. We know from Phase I experience, what kind of issues would crop up. We documented these issues and discussed the methodology. For Phase 2, we asked the industry for their views. We got no response. On March 19, we had a meeting with the IBF. The unfortunate thing is that no one is asking the broadcasters and IBF the question on why they didn’t respond to the methodology TAM had presented if they had any issues! The outcome, which is the result, is the scenario prevailing in the ground during the DAS Phase 2 period. Like in Phase I, it will take time for markets and consumers to settle down to the new devices to view TV, specifically among elderly women segments.

 

So, if they really had a problem with us, why don’t they tell us where the problem in methodology is? No one person has come to us with a perspective on methodology in the last so many years. More so, during the last fifteen years, all documents pertaining to methodology have been shared with the industry constituents, attached to reports like Dr Mitra committee, TRAI reports and made available on the company website.

 

There are also allegations that TAM has never met or has been in touch with the industry about their concerns and requirements. Your comments.

Very surprising! The latest DAS exercise is a example of how TAM worked with the industry bodies and ensured the data roll out in time. Do I need to elaborate more? If there is a will, there is always a way!

 

In sum, there appears to be crisis of faith in the ratings, it appears. In the methodology, in the number of boxes, in the leakages at the data collection stage.

We first need to define what “faith” means! The set of industry captains – who created and re-created industry bodies – should ask a simple question as to why they requested the two global media research giants to set up a neutral TV Audience Measurement service for India fifteen years back?

 

The data we deliver is sensitive to the environment it is gathering data from -changes in Content, Marketing, Distributional, Scheduling ….all affect viewing behaviour. We have over 1000+ case studies presented across the industry on how the data is reflecting the reality on the ground! Yet with so much knowledge, this lack of faith expression is too difficult to take…

 

So whether it is sampling, methodology, attempts of illegal panel infiltration, all these and many more will get resolved only when Industry has an internal clarity on why it needs a audience measurement set up!

 

The perils of our type of service - that of rankings and report cards - is that we cannot keep every one happy at the same time. Here is where, a cohesive industry and its vision is required to help and shield a service like TAM to withstand obstacles.

 

Isn’t the setting up of the transparency panel and the security officer a case of too little too late, as one industryperson said?

One needs to understand the ground dynamics well. Setting of Transparency Panel is a tall task. It requires years of planning, professional implementation and timing. We envisaged TTP a couple of years back. However, setting such heavyweight panels take time. It couldn’t have been done overnight.

10 ways in which TAM has benefited broadcasters: LV Krishnan
 

As a messenger and as a report card provider, TAM it has gone through a tough time with the broadcasters in its 15 year of service.

 

While the industry remained fixated with “rankings”, in retrospect, very few realize, that the same Television Audience Measurement system, during this long journey, sprinkled us with some amazing understanding of the changing and evolving Indian TV audiences. For example, had it not been for TAM’s measurement, we wouldn’t have known the following:

 

1. That news genre has grown and moved out of the 1% share mark…today it stands at around 6%.
2. The grand success and growth of Big B from big to small screen.
3. Without measurement, we would not have learnt that IPL has become such a success.
4. 5 years ago, a Hindi General Entertainment Channel was launched. Without measurement, would we have known of it as one of the established and leading channels?
5. It is only with measurement that the industry got to understand how digitization made an impact on consumer/audience behaviour.
6. In the year 2000, the industry had less 100 TV channels getting reported. Today, the number touches is upwards of 600. Would the growth of these channels be possible without the presence of measurement?
7. All these years, the industry has seen a healthy (sometimes even double digit) growth of TV advertising. Would this advertising investment have happened in the absence of measurement?
8. Would the industry have known how the women audience lapped up the 2003 and 2011 Cricket World Cup? It is only through measurement.
9. Without measurement, none of us would have realized the potential and growth of regional TV Channels
10. Measurement helped the industry understand the dynamics and difference in viewership between small and big towns.

 

 

Are you responding to the BARC RFP?

Yes, we will. We also responded to the RFI.

 

The TRAI has been very clear on the ownership structure of the measurement agency? How will you manage to clear that given that you are part-owned by WPP’s Kantar?

There is absolutely no conflict. Kantar is not a broadcast company, it is a globally recognized research company. We have never hidden our ownership and we are proud to claim and stand by it.

 

Is television viewership measurement a thankless exercise? Will it always be the case of broadcasters being unhappy and threatening a pull-out?

I do understand that broadcasters have been facing a lot of pressure. Digitization, the 10+2 ad duration. Remember, it’s all eventually linked to revenues. So when broadcasters face pressure, they in turn exert pressure on TAM. TAM is the favourite punching bag.

 

So if some channels want to unsubscribe until they get their act together, it’s fine. But to make allegations that our methodology is wrong and that we haven’t responded is wrong. It’s not right to say that TAM’s system is wrong or not transparent.

 

As someone who has devoted his best years of his working career to TAM and identified with television measurement in India, how do you react to all these charges?

For me, Life is TAM. And TAM is all about providing data truthfully and with integrity. As long as my team and myself have the honour of working at TAM, we will go about doing our work in the right and best manner we can. We will never, never compromise our integrity to all the pressures from the environment. That said, these allegations are definitely hurting. While industry talks of TAM’s transparency, my question is that, has the industry been transparent? Despite innumerable attempts and reminders, have they ever, shared with us a document on what their collective requirements are? Do we know what this industry’s vision and plan for the next five years is?

 

Having said this, we are committed to continue with our best practices in a extremely complex market place. I leave the rest to the market forces!

 

Is there a way forward?

 

Till the time work of BARC kickstarts, why can’t the industry just constitute a small body to work with TAM and introspect the areas where they have a common concern. TAM has always been transparent and will always be so except for its town list and panel homes. It’s to facilitate something in this direction, TAM went on to attempt creating a separate panel of Transparency member team with global experts. The industry can very well take advantage of this committee to suggest ways in which TAM should improvise the exercises it conducts continuously.

 

Meanwhile, we are happy to sit across the table and address all the queries and issues of broadcasters, including those who have opted out.

 

 

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One response to “Allegations hurt: L V Krishnan”

  1. Vikky says:

    Why do grown-ups in the media act like a bunch of kids?

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