Currency Research Crisis: IRS Today, BARC Tomorrow?

07 Feb,2014

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The new IRS results have thrown the print industry in a tizzy. The change in research design, and a fundamental one at that, has led to drastic shifts in results, in turn influencing potentially drastic shifts in ad revenues over time. While some of the concerns expressed by the print industry areabout the credibility of the data, almost 80-90 percent of the concerns can be answered by the way of change in the research design.

 

But print companies (at least the publications impacted negatively) are right in saying that the research design change is not their problem. For them, IRS is IRS is IRS. If MRUC decided to refurbish its research design, and that led to a sea change in results, are they implying that the earlier results, which have been used as currency all these years, were “inaccurate”?

 

Seeming “anomalies” like Hindu Business Line showing higher readership in North-East than Chennai weaken the MRUC argument considerably, by creating a sense of “flaw” around the execution of the design on field. But the real issue still revolves around a fundamental design change.

 

In six years of extensive media research, I have realized the futility of even attempting to use one research to forecast the results of another research. The error margins can multiply like rabbits, and before you know, you are handling senseless data in an attempt to achieve research-to-research parity.

 

For example, there are channels whose viewers we just don’t find in field research. But their viewership data suggests they exist in sizeable numbers, much more than some competition channel’s viewers, who are much easier to recruit on field. Like a radio station in Delhi is rated high by RAM, but in extensive radio research in the market, finding its listeners has always been a challenge.

 

Every research has its design, based on certain underlying assumptions. And this design has a large role to play in how the results play out. There is a fairly strong element of “lottery” when the design changes. Some players are bound to benefit and some bound to lose out. Who’s on which side of this lucky dip is anybody’s guess, till the first results of the new design come out.

 

When the first BARC data is released later in 2014, this situation is bound to repeat. Some channels are bound to gain and some bound to lose vis-à-vis their TAM performance. It will be easier for BARC for two reasons. One, the TAM design has been under attack anyway, so even broadcasters who show a loss of viewership will be cautious in protesting. Two, BARC is industry-backed in the true sense, and hence, voices of dissent may be handled behind closed doors in most part.

 

Yet, overnight shift in numbers can create sufficient market disruption and loss of morale in the ill-affected companies. To that extent, a ratings-dark period can provide a silver lining. If new data shows major shifts after a six-month blackout, it will be difficult to isolate the impact of the shift as a result of research design change vs. a real shift in the viewership of the research universe.

 

Currency research has widespread business impact and should always be packaged with a ‘handle with care’ board. Perhaps this is where MRUC went wrong. This is where TAM certainly went wrong.

 

A lesson for BARC to learn?

 

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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