Ghost of IRS mess may force BARC & TAM to co-exist

05 Feb,2015


By A Correspondent


The ghost of the Indian Readership Survey released last year is seeing its impact on the new television audience measurement regime of the Broadcast Audience Research Council. IRS is still in a state of disarray even though stakeholder associations have okayed it.


Although we are told that the next round of numbers is to be out soon, the industry is still waiting.


MxMIndia spoke to a variety of folks in broadcast and in media agencies.  While none of them were ready to go on record on the sensitive issue, they are worried about the outcome of the BARC study. And the reason:  the proposed BARC study is dramatically different from what TAM does. So it’s not that the same sample is being studied, also the BARC’s panel is twice that of TAM. “The goalpost has moved. It’s as if the game was being played on clay and now on astro-turf.”


A senior media planner told MxM that one must remember it’s a statistical exercise and not a census. When asked as to how does one explain the shockingly low readership figures for some publications like BusinessLine or Hitavada in IRS 2013, the planner told us: “It’s a sample survey. The sample was selected scientifically. It’s a matter of chance that those selected didn’t read these two publications. So you can’t fault IRS for this.”


Hmmm. The third-party revalidation process conducted by veteran researcher Praveen Tripathi and adopted by the IRS determined that the process followed by IRS was okay.  “The problem with audience research is never the process. It’s the fieldwork,” said a senior executive of a research firm which has had some experience in audience measurement.  “Media companies are known to influence these in order to get favourable numbers. This is more easily done with print readership and tougher with television. When you are dealing with human beings and human intervention, you can never say. The problem is compounded because the trade associations refuse to act against erring media entities.”


So where is the anxiety on BARC?


The big channels needn’t worry. One hears that the BARC validation process will ensure that if there’s anything astray from the existing, it will be looked into. However, with the number of people sampled having leapfrogged, there is bound to be some change from what TAM dishes out every week presently. The unease amongst broadcasters is whether the change will be as significant as it was in the IRS results? “Yes, be ready for a few surprises. Logically, there should be no validation, because if the process is right and the industry is mature, there is no need for being alarmed. “


So are we saying that the media industry isn’t mature? “Perhaps,” said the senior planner we spoke to earlier. “The stakes are too high, and in the case of the IRS there was an unfortunate charge that one newspaper group had influenced the field work.” But there is also a view that the MRUC and RSCI, the people associated with the IRS, did not handle the IRS mess-up too well. “You can’t be behaving like cowboys when you are dealing with sensitive stuff like audience measurement. The existence of a media brand is in question with an incorrect survey,” a media-owner had told this writer a few months back. “ MxMIndia is awaiting  a response from the MRUC chairman to a few questions.


After this report was filed, our attention was drawn to a report in The Economic Times as well as on on the same issue. The ET story indicated that there could be a blackout period post February until BARC ratings start since subscribers may pull the plug on TAM. The IndianTelevision report quotes Zee MD and CEO Punit Goenka saying that IBF has taken no decision to pull out of TAM. The statement assumes significance as Mr Goenka is also BARC chairman and one of the most powerful members of the IBF.


But what puts the lid on the discussion is an emphatic assertion from TAM (to MxM) that it will not discontinue ratings even after BARC starts transmitting its data.


“Will you’ll stop when BARC starts,” we asked. “No, we won’t,” the TAM spokesperson told us. The question of course is not of TAM continuing to publish its data, but how many agencies and broadcasters will subscribe to it.


There have been industry rumours that GroupM, the largest media agency conglomerate in the country, which is owned by WPP which in turn is 50 percent owner of TAM via Kantar Media may still be in favour of TAM’s continuance. Although the FAQs released by BARC have clearly stated that GroupM has committed itself to BARC by investing in monies, there is a belief that the media services conglomerate will maintain a hawk’s eye on BARC.


The good thing for BARC is that all those leading it are doing it with pragmatism and are wise enough to know where they need to exercise more caution. Also, data has already started flowing in and being assessed by BARC bosses.


Watch this space for more.


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