What next for TAM?

10 Jan,2014

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari [updated]

 

Is it a cul de sac for TAM? Was the cabinet approval for the TRAI guidelines the final nail on TAM’s 15-year-plus existence?

 

Created by a decision of the Joint Industry Body way back in 1998 with stakeholders Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) agreeing to back the body. For a while, there was an alternative in the form of aMap, but that fizzled out thanks to a lack of patronage.

 

Had aMap existed today, one wouldn’t be sure of its future because it always quoted a consortium of unnamed investors as its primary owner.

 

 

Policy Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies in India

 

The Union Cabinet today approved the proposal of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for bringing out a comprehensive regulatory framework in the form of guidelines for Television Rating Agencies in India. These guidelines cover detailed procedures for registration of rating agencies, eligibility norms, terms and conditions of registration, cross-holdings, methodology for audience measurement, a complaint redressal mechanism, sale and use of ratings, audit, disclosure, reporting requirements and action on non-compliance of guidelines etc. The proposal is based on recommendations made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on “Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies” dated 11th September, 2013.

 

Based on the recommendations of TRAI, comprehensive policy guidelines for television rating agencies have been formulated.

 

Salient features of these guidelines are as follows:

• All rating agencies including the existing rating agencies shall obtain registration from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

 

• Detailed registration procedure, eligibility norms, terms and conditions, cross-holding norms, period of registration, security conditions and other obligations have been delineated.

 

• No single company / legal entity either directly or through its associates or interconnect undertakings shall have substantial equity holding that is, 10 percent or more of paid up equity in both rating agencies and broadcasters/advertisers/advertising agencies.

 

• Ratings ought to be technology neutral and shall capture data across multiple viewing platforms viz. cable TV, Direct-to- Home (DTH), Terrestrial TV etc.

 

• Panel homes for audience measurement shall be drawn from the pool of households selected through an establishment survey. A minimum panel size of 20,000 to be implemented within six months of the guidelines coming into force. Thereafter the panel size shall be increased by 10,000 every year until it reaches the figure of 50,000.

 

• Secrecy and privacy of the panel homes must be maintained. 25 percent of panel homes shall be rotated every year.

 

• The rating agency shall submit the detailed methodology to the Government and also publish it on its website.

 

• The rating agency shall set up an effective complaint redressal system with a toll free number.

 

• The rating agency shall set up an internal audit mechanism to get its entire methodology/processes audited internally on quarterly basis and through an independent auditor annually. All audit reports to be put on the website of the rating agency. Government and TRAI reserve the right to audit the systems /procedures/mechanisms of the rating agency.

 

• Non-compliance of guidelines on cross-holding, methodology, secrecy, privacy, audit, public disclosure and reporting requirements shall lead to forfeiture of two bank guarantees worth Rs. one crore furnished by the company in the first instance, and, in the second instance shall lead to cancellation of registration. For violation of other provisions of the guidelines, the action shall be forfeiture of bank guarantee of Rs. 25 lakh for the first instance of non-compliance, forfeiture of bank guarantee of Rs.75 lakh for the second instance of non compliance and for the third instance, cancellation of registration.

 

• 30 days time would be given to the existing rating agency to comply with the guidelines.

 

• The guidelines would come into effect immediately from the date of notification.

 

The Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies in India are designed to address aberrations in the existing television rating system. These guidelines are aimed at making television ratings transparent, credible and accountable. The agencies operating in this field have to comply with directions relating to public disclosure, third party audit of their mechanisms and transparency in the methodologies adopted. This would help make rating agencies accountable to stakeholders such as the Government, broadcasters, advertisers, advertising agencies and above all the people.

 

Background:

Television Rating Points (TRPs) have been a much debated issue in India since the present system of TRPs is riddled with several maladies such as small sample size which is not representative, lack of transparency, lack of reliability and credibility of data etc. Shortcomings in the present rating system have been highlighted by key stakeholders that include individuals, consumer groups, government, broadcasters, advertisers, and advertising agencies etc. Members of Standing Committee on Information Technology had also expressed concern over the shortcomings.

 

In 2008, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) had sought recommendations of TRAI on various issues relating to TRPs and policy guidelines to be adopted for rating agencies. TRAI, in its recommendations in August 2008, had amongst other things recommended the approach of self-regulation through the establishment of an industry-led body, that is the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).

 

The Ministry had constituted a Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Amit Mitra, the then Secretary General FICCI, in 2010 to review the existing TRP system In India. The committee also recommended that self-regulation of TRPs by the industry was the best way forward.

 

Since, the BARC could not operationalise the TRP generating mechanism, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting sought recommendations of TRAI in September 2013 on comprehensive guidelines/accreditation mechanism for television rating agencies in India to ensure fair competition, better standards and quality of services by television rating agencies. TRAI recommendations on Guideline for Television Rating Agencies were received in September 2013. While supporting self-regulation of television ratings through an industry-led body like BARC, TRAI recommended that television rating agencies shall be regulated through a framework in the form of guidelines to be notified by MIB. It also recommended that all rating agencies, including the existing rating agency, shall require registration with MIB in accordance with the terms and conditions prescribed under the guidelines.

 

Source: Press Information Bureau website – pib.nic.in

 

The problem with the TRAI guidelines for TAM is its ownership – TAM is a 50-50 jv between Nielsen and Kantar Media Research. The third point on the cabinet approved TRAI guidelines is very clear on the ownership issue. “No single company / legal entity either directly or through its associates or interconnect undertakings shall have substantial equity holding that is, 10 percent or more of paid up equity in both rating agencies and broadcasters/advertisers/advertising agencies,” it says.

 

With Kantar being owned by WPP which in turns owns Group M, Ogilvy, JWT and a host of advertising and marketing services firms in India, there’s little that TAM can do.

 

Perhaps not. For, as they say in India, for every law, there’s a mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and son-in-law. So Kantar can retain a 9.9 percent stake and the rest of the 40.1% can be bought by one or multiple entities, who can then have some longwinded alliance or consulting arrangement with one of the many WPP group entities.

 

For instance, MxMIndia could own the 40.1 percent stake and then MxM can retain Ogilvy, or JWT or whatever for creative services. Or the 40.1 percent stake could be owned by a Trust… TAM could seek inspiration from the ownership of other similar moves made in the past.

 

What’s happened though is unfortunate. By giving the government a handle to police it, the broadcast ecosystem has had it. The development also shows that the broadcasters may seem more powerful but can’t keep off the government from interfering in its affairs. It may be remembered that until last year, the print readership study was undertaken by Hansa, which is owned by the RK Swamy BBDO and Hansa group. This group also has interests in advertising and runs a media agency, but no one raised a question on the issue of ownership. Or even if people did, it wasn’t public and certainly didn’t call for a government intervention.

 

Logically, the government ought to have no business to police the TV measurement business. An intervention should be necessary only if there’s a fraud and then the law enforcers – the courts and the cops can get into the picture.

 

It will be interesting to see if an agency like Group M – which is owned by WPP – decides to say that it will have its own system of measuring TV audiences. It’s unlikely that it will do it as Hindustan Unilever, one of its main clients, is a key member of the ISA and a senior HUL executive is a member of the BARC technical committee for the new audience measurement system. Also, an HUL may not want to take on the government for its own business reasons.

 

The clock may be ticking for TAM, but the next step in this drama is the notification of the guidelines. TAM could of course take the government to Court. In the event that the notification happens and TAM doesn’t take the government to court, it will need to do something about its ownership. And increase boxes from 9450 to 20,000 etc etc.

 

There’s of course another all-important factor. From the reports we receive at MxMIndia, BARC has kind-of decided on awarding the critical tech contract to Mediametrie, the French industry body and a couple of other vendors. The deal may not have been signed, but it’s just a matter of tam, er, time. Nielsen had also made a fresh pitch at a lower cost, but the informal industry view was to think long-term and give the contract to Mediametrie.

 

In that event, it may well be a cul de sac for the way TAM is today. Perhaps, like in the Hindi movies, it will need to be reborn as something else. Or wait for divine intervention.

In the meantime, we hear of a pressure building within the industry of how the notification could impact broadcasting. The earliest the BARC-approved measurement system will come up is the second quarter of 2014. It will take a quarter or two for it to find stability and earn the confidence of the fraternity. Advertisers and broadcasters (and media agencies) can ill-afford a period of no measurement.

That perhaps would do more harm to the industry than any other move to shore up the media ecosystem.

 

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