Ritu Midha: If no TAM TAMming, then what?

13 Jun,2013

By Ritu Midha


Flashback to October 2012. DAS was rolled out in the metros. TAM organised workshops – made quite a few modifications in its universe size and otherwise, so that it could keep pace with the changes brought in by DAS.


LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research, explained that there could be quite a few changes in television viewing pattern – fall could be seen in the numbers, mainly of big channels. After the initial turmoil – set patterns were expected to emerge again.


We spoke to many a media professionals – everyone was happy about DAS, and in sync with TAM’s readiness for the new universe. Interestingly, a handful of media professionals pointed out the difficulties faced by them due to the number dark period of 30 days – when TAM chose not to release data for certain markets as DAS was settling in. In a world where television is bought and sold based on TAM ratings – it indeed was a difficult scenario to work in.


And now suddenly the media space is abuzz with ‘news’ (newsy gossip) that Sony Entertainment television, Times television and NDTV have bid adieu to TAM, while Star, Zee, Viacom18 and Network18 are all set to do so in the next few days. And if everyone does quit, these biggies will not return to the TAM fold in a hurry. As I understand it, they will not subscribe to TAM data, but TAM will continue to measure them!


To put it in a nutshell, the carpet is all set to be swept from under TAM’s feet this week. The biggest soap opera of the television industry is heading towards a climax.


One might remember there was TAM and there was INTAM. They ran parallel for nearly eight years (throwing different data sets) before they merged. And as for measurement system, It took quite some time for the industry to see the virtues of people meter, complete roll over from diary system to people meter! And now while BARC is asking for a tender for the new television measurement system globally, the new system will not be in place in a hurry. Considering the sheer size of the country, even if it does not require seeding of people meters in every home and for every television set – it still will take substantial time to capture the width TAM is capturing now.


Jumping again to early DAS days, all the constituents – channels, media agencies and marketers found it difficult to manage life with 30 data dark days – how will they then manage till BARC gets the new system in place? While every agency has its own optimising and predicting models – the key currency continues to be the data provided by TAM – and television continues to be the backbone of most media plans.


I distinctly remember seeing ads of competing channels – both claiming to be No 1. And they would be both correct too! TG, markets or some other parameter would be different. Important thing, I assumed (and rightfully) was to prove oneself to be No 1 based on TAM numbers.


Moving to now, whether the channels are right or not – is not under the purview of this piece (and neither do I, by no stretch of imagination, understand the numbers game better than the media professionals on either side of the fence). My concern is how will television be sold? Do the channels have a Plan B? Or, will the channels sell only on qualitative – which will not mean much, unless and until these are syndicated studies encompassing all channels of a specific genre.


Digressing a little, on one side we have print – where quarterly research is considered to be a good option – and till it happens, half yearly numbers too are good enough. Collecting this data is a cumbersome process despite the recent changes – and print really does not change that frequently in content- and one does not have the luxury of changing newspaper by pressing a remote button.


Web, meanwhile, spins numbers real time – and one can track data till previous day on most web tracking systems.


Television, of course, releases weekly data. And with digitization – possibilities of more accurate, micro, and higher frequency measurement are unlimited – out of these frequency, obviously, does not really need to be enhanced. Transparency, cited everyone, was one of the key advantages of Digital Access System – which also implied more transparent and accurate measurement. And it is the same accuracy of data that is being questioned now – culprit, of course, is said to be the methodology or one can say data slicing.


Back to my concern: how will the channels sell in the period between the TAM era and BARC system era:

1. Projections based on historical numbers: What about the ‘coming up’ and ‘upcoming’ shows? Will the new shows be sold based on the previous shows in that slot?

2. IRS data: Till the time the new system comes in – dependence on IRS data for television viewing pattern – it is a different issue many a show might have ended by the time the data comes out, or an event be long over – changing the entire paradigm

3. Yearly deals are already closed – so less worry – only thing is the clients would never be convinced they are getting the value committed till they see numbers in their mailbox at regular intervals

4. Or, they are just hitting TAM – where it hurts the most. Commercially! As media agencies and marketers will continue to subscribe to TAM – there is no need to worry. And continue they will till the time a better system is in place, and it manages to convince everyone that it is a better system

5. Ironically, convincing agencies and marketers that TAM numbers do not project the complete picture might be the hardest battle channels would need to fight – unless they have a more plausible proof of their pudding being better than others.


As a parting shot: I believe the most interesting will be the battle of news channels in a GRP-, TRP-, CPRP-free world – the year ahead is going to be the year of news channels courtesy the elections, flip-flopping economy, unfolding mysteries of IPL, and of course the gore! What will it be: my anchor was better than his… or Narendra Modi was on my channel for 30 seconds longer than his channel?!


Ritu Midha is a senior journalist and web strategist based in Mumbai. She is also Consulting Editor and Editor – Special Projects, MxMIndia.


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