Ready for a ratings-dark year?

24 Jan,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The threat, and I use the word carefully, that we may end up being in the middle of a fairly long ratings-dark period in 2014, is now a real one. Kantar has taken the Indian government to court over the cabinet guidelines for TV ratings agencies. The guidelines have a shareholding pattern clause that would make TAM (in which Kantar, a WPP company, has a 50% stake) an ‘illegal’ ratings provider less than a month from now.

 

I wrote two weeks ago on why I’m no fan of TRAI or I&B ministry interfering in the broadcasting ecosystem on the topic of ratings. But now that they have, if Kantar’s case is dismissed, we may have a situation unlike anything seen before – a running, sprawling industry will have no viewership measurement. In effect, it will have no currency to sell in.

 

This is chaos of a magnitude far higher than what happened in 2012, where ratings were held back for nine weeks, but were still being recorded, and hence, eventually released. Here, we are staring at a no-measurement situation, not just a no-reporting one!

 

We are in that part of the year when a lot of annual deals are signed. Typically, data from April 2013 till date can be used to arrive at cost benchmarks for these deals. The real challenge will be post-evaluation of actual deliveries. There could be nothing to evaluate at all.

 

But the big element of chaos will come via specials and new launches. Sporting events like the IPL, the T20 World Cup and the FIFA World Cup are scheduled between March and July this year. We are also likely to have a General Election without measurement. How’s that as an idea to call a ceasefire in the news channels war? I’m not even getting into the innumerable fiction and non-fiction show launches that happen every month across 100+ channels.

 

How will the broadcasters respond if this reality of no-ratings dawns upon them? I’d like to assume that most would want to keep a close eye on their performance through alternative methods, with the understanding that no magic is going to happen overnight when the BARC ratings start later this year.

 

Putting monitoring mechanisms is not very difficult. Tracking day-after recall is a good indicator of directional movement of consumption of any channel or show. Many broadcasters used it effectively even during the nine-week ratings hiatus in 2012. For example, Madhubala’s recall doubled from 5% to 10% over that period. The rating averaged 2.5 TVR before the blackout, and 4.3 TVR in the week after the blackout. Hence, an accurate sense of significant positive movement was captured during the blackout.

 

So, I believe the content and marketing teams can still survive this period, albeit with a dash of trepidation. The real issue is on the buying side. Media planning solutions are more complex than just programme and channel sampling measurement. And a currency research can be replaced only by a currency research. This is where I fear all hell may break loose. Though, it may also mean that we have the classical buyer-seller market, where negotiation skills and enterprise become the deciding factors.

 

I’m still hoping a solution is worked out, either in the court or outside court. I&B has been making some fairly strong comments on why they needed to do what they did, without having to wait any longer. The question they should also ask is: At what cost?

 

Whatever happens, be assured that there will never be a dull moment over the next 12 months. Fasten your seatbelts!

 

 

TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

 

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