Comment | IRS mess: Heads: publishers lose. Tails: publishers lose

05 Feb,2014

Cartoons: Text by Bharat Kapadia. Created on Toondoo.com

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

Not many moons ago, Lynn de Souza, then CEO of Lintas Media Group, had tweeted: What would it take to bring the MRUC and NRSC together? The United Nations?

 

Well, it didn’t need the United Nations to get MRUC and NRSC to come together and Ms de Souza was in fact first chairperson of the joint body called RSCI.

 

Jokes apart and the toons rendered on veteran mediaperson Bharat Kapadia’s lines by cartoon-maker Toondoo.com are indeed funny, but the truth needs to be told.  Even if it’s harsh. The only people laughing after the mess of the Indian Readership Survey 2013 that was released on January 28 will be advertisers and media agencies representing them.

 

Cartoons: Text by Bharat Kapadia. Created on Toondoo.com

MxMIndia spoke to a cross-section of marketers, agency folk and publisher representatives and everyone believes that the process followed by the RSCI (an MRUC and NRSC combine) was fine. This is what many of them told MxMIndia soon after the process was unveiled in March 2013. There were ‘wah, wahs’ all over (see link: New, improved IRS hailed by industry).

 

But when the findings got public, it took a day or two for the news to sink in. In fact the following day, many newspaper groups gloated over the results.  In print, and in private. News daily dna took the lead in the offensive and was the first to question the numbers. And then the others followed. Dainik Jagran dubbed the Nielsen’s scientific method ‘khokhla’ or hollow. On Saturday, 18 publications carried a joint statement damning the IRS.

 

Events happened in quick succession thereafter. On Tuesday (Feb 3), the INS representatives met people from MRUC and Nielsen. RSCI’s current chairperson Hormasji Cama was travelling and hence absent. The MRUC-Nielsen foursome weren’t allowed to show a presentation of the process followed and asked to withdraw the IRS. The MRUC folks said it needed to discuss the matter internally and revert within 24 hours. Which they did and said since the IRS is run by RSCI which in turn has been formed by NRSC and MRUC, it said it couldn’t take a unilateral decision (see link: IRS issues statement, Decision on IRS by RSCI on Feb 19).

 

The INS shot back near-instantly with an advisory asking its members (esp the 18 members who had signed the statement) to send MRUC, RSCI (and possibly NRSC/ABC too) withdrawal letters. A publisher and INS functionary even told MxMIndia that it was mulling legal action (stay on IRS) if not withdrawn) and its own currency for readership measurement (see link: INS rejects MRUC response. Mulls alternative currency. Key publicatns to start withdrawing fm IRS)

 

The cross-section of the print ecosystem we spoke with had mixed feelings on the developments. While they believe that the RSCI/Nielsen/MRUC should’ve had a more humane and practical approach on the study and factored in the old rankings and status of publications, they believe an outright rejection will set back the industry by nearly three years.

 

“In this period, many editions and publications have gained ground or fallen in readership. There is no capturing of this data. What we will now see is an anarchy – claims and counter-claims and no audited numbers,” one planner told us.

 

Another media buyer and planner was matter-or-fact: “The agency frat already has the data. We will of course use it to beat prices down, even if it’s informally used.” A senior industryperson also echoed this fear.

 

Clearly, newspaper  and magazine-owners stand to lose the most in this face-off. It is imperative that corrective action is taken soonest.

 

And will an alternative currency presented by INS work? The senior media planner we spoke with replied in a “Yes and No”.  “Yes, it’s a question of credibility. It all depends on who is doing it. Also a joint industry body/committee-run study is better, even though we do know that there is some really top talent working with print players,” she said.

 

Tweeted on May 28, 2009

The question that a lot of media agency and some advertisers are asking is what will happen when the first BARC-led television measurement data comes in? “The stakes are much higher in television, and we may suggest Z-category security for the BARC bosses,” an agency senior joked.

 

Meanwhile, it does appear the United Nations may need to be brought in to clear get the INS and IRS together. Right, Ms de Souza?

 

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