‘It takes time to align everybody’

02 May,2019

 

The Media Research Users Council (MRUC) released the much-awaited 20019/Q1 edition of the Indian Readership Survey last Friday. MxMIndia spoke with Chairman Ashish Bhasin immediately after the release of the report. Editor’s Note: There’s a lot that Mr Bhasin has said on record. And there’s a lot that he hasn’t. With reason. However, MRUC and all the players in the ecosystem need to be commended on the release. Read on…

 

Congratulations on the release of IRS 2019/Q1. As a media professional and media-watcher what is the biggest takeaway for you from this round?

I think the biggest thing that I have seen is that print continues to grow, because the general feeling seems to be doom-and-gloom around print. It is a fact that digital and other media are growing fast but that doesn’t mean that print is not growing. And from a mediaperson’s perspective, if I look at the overall picture, I think India is the only major market in the world where all media are growing. We are in a lucky phase.

 

But there is a marginal reduction in the AIR numbers.

Yes.

 

It may be be marginal, but it’s a degrowth for sure.

So Total Readership is if I have read the paper in the last 30 days, even once. AIR is if I’ve read it yesterday, right. People today are travelling a lot more. People today are sometimes very busy, and don’t have time to read and therefore may not read the paper every single day. But that doesn’t mean they are not readers.

 

That’s the currency which your media agency business uses.

That’s the currency we were all used to.

But now there is a new reality. So, what we have done is, we have given both the options for even more cuts. All the options are available to our users, to our subscribers. They can see a three-day cut or a five-day cut, one-day cut or seven-day cut or a 30-day cart. The more information that you have means the more informed a decision one will make.

 

But that actually results in multiple currencies, right?

No. Currency is IRS. How you cut and dice that, how you look at the data is different. Some body might want to look only at males, somebody might want to look at only north.

That is up to you how do you want to analyse it. But the more information you give to people, the better decisions they will make. So why should we not give that.

 

Back to the growth in readership. What would you attribute this to?

I think one is, literacy levels are increasing in India, which is reflecting even in our socio-economic information that is coming in general. Secondly, by and large if you see, any developing country, readership increases are dependent upon two things. One is literacy level, and the other is disposable income… because only if you have money, will you go out and buy a newspaper otherwise you will wait for somebody else to buy it. Because we have had a reason very good monsoon, it is not a bad monsoon you had general economic growth happening because your English and literacy levels are increasing. I think that is what is really saving the day….

 

Does it also mean that, digital hasn’t really grown as it should have?

No, no not really. If you have seen digital has actually grown significantly, and today is a first time that IRS is now starting to reflect numbers in the same ball park as what…

 

Given that if readership is growing and so is literacy growing…

Well the universe itself itself is growing, so people who were consuming less media today are consuming much more media. Of course the growth is much more in digital and that is no doubt. Even digital newspapers if you see have been reported.

 

E-papers

It was the second time e-paper, e-publications, that has grown remarkably, but particularly in the larger areas and particularly in the NCCS A+, it has really grown very rapidly.

 

As a media-watcher, in what way will the growth in digital impact print?

I think for some time everything will grow and therefore print will also grow, because of various reasons that we have discussed. But in the long run, a consumer will not consume only one media, he will, he or she will consume several media along with each other and print as a medium will have to evolve and adapt to that. Like, for example, for a digital you might get more topicality, but you might get more analysis in the physical copy etc. And according to the readers evolving, I think print as a medium needs to evolve and keep up with what’s the need of the consumer and not go on doing what they are best at, learned best how to do over the previous hundred years.

 

So, will we now see IRS being released quarterly?

That is the intent, and we work very hard towards it. As we are speaking, the field work for next quarter has started. So the intent is that, every quarter we should have a release so that continuity remains. And that’s what we are working towards.

 

It’s been 15 months since the last IRS was released. Why the delay?

So it was supposed to be an annual report. It should have released around Feb-March 2019, that is what the intent was. But various factors came in, and the field work took much longer…  for example, the Kerala floods delayed us in the South states for a while. So maybe a month or two of a delay.

 

But the IRS was always meant to be a quarterly.

We didn’t move to quarterly then. The quarterly move is happening now.

 

The buzz was certain publications were refusing to pay up because of unhappiness with data and the findings. Reportedly, some big players had reservations.

That is true, that’s not untrue. Because you know, there were and there are various stake holders in this. There are publishers, there are agencies, there are clients. Within publishers, there are language, Hindi, English publishers etc. Now unfortunately each stakeholder looks upon it from his or her angle and not from the industry angle. So, it takes time to align everybody and equally takes, it’s a very expensive study.

 

But as President of the Advertising Agencies Association of India, you are also a stakeholder in BARC. And the stakes are fairly high in television too. Perhaps more. But everything seems to be going right there, but not with print.

Yes, the system set there is working very well and learning from them, learning from other things, we are trying to implement and hopefully we have been able to implement a similar system out here. The general belief was, and which was probably true in the past that print research didn’t need to be done very regularly because newspaper reading habits don’t change every day or every month. So if you are reading a newspaper you are likely to keep reading that for a long time. It takes a while to convince people that it’s not necessarily true, the more updated and the more regular data that you have, the better it is for the print industry. But you know if somebody has been working with the same mindset for 100 years and it has worked very well for them, it takes a little bit of convincing to get them to change. But what I am very happy about is that, at least I can talk about my team, I don’t know about the past and I don’t know about the future. Everybody has been very cooperative, it did take time and is taking time and effort to align everyone. But now that everybody is aligned, they are very-very supportive.

 

There’s word that you’ve been very tough on some people, especially those who were hesitant on paying up.

(laughs) I have.

 

Who has been the toughest to deal with? You spoke about various stakeholders.

I wouldn’t like to name any individual. So look, I have done 2-3 things, which has been non-compromising. One is that there were rumours of people trying to influence data etc etc. We clamped down very, very hard, we put in a lot of digital check. We digitalised the whole process. It’s all carried out, even though it meant a lot more investment. We closed as many possible loopholes that could have been in that. The other area was in reporting. People were comparing apples and oranges and actually misleading. Some of the advertising was misleading, so we put a code of conduct for reporting. And if somebody, if a subscriber does not subscribe to that code of conduct, the data does not get released to that person. I mean the software just doesn’t open. Ultimately, you need technology to open, control this. So you have to subscribe to an agreed code of conduct which the board has approved, the members have agreed to and therefore hopefully that problem should also get eliminated.

 

But they are still using different (and confusing) metrics: TR, AIR, AIR +3 etc

That is not a problem. So, you can use whatever you want to use, if you are comparing TR of one publication, you can only compare it with TR of another publication. What was happening in the past, was for example you would compare one thing of one publication and completely another thing of another publication. Data is something you can cut and dice in whichever way you want and make it tell a story. But it’s got to be told in a fair way and all the disclaimers should be clearly put. You will see that any ad around IRS data comes out now, hopefully if members continue to agree to do what they have agreed to do and will have a very clear mention of what it is referring to. So for example you can say this is TR of this state of this age group of this male/ female/ whatever.. they have to clearly specify that as a sort of a legend in the data that we are comparing.

 

It is actually interesting that in the case of BARC’s television measurement, the top players have been the most mature and statesmanly in their outlook towards the findings. In the case of print and the IRS, it’s said that the top players are fighting and derailing the measurement system.

I don’t want to talk or compare one versus the other but I can only say that from my prospective as a chairman of MRUC, they have all heard me out and have cooperated. People do have different points of view, but we have been able to convince all of them to cooperate. It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been a very quick ride but, then, they all cooperated

 

While you said at the press conference that the Hindustan Times and Hindustan data are still bein processed, clearly all doesn’t appear to be well. Did HT Media ask for the data to be withheld?

No, Hindustan Times did not ask for the data to be withheld. The data hasn’t been withheld. It is still under review and the review isn’t over. Until that is done, we cannot release the data. It will take a few more more days and as soon as it is reviewed, we will release it to the subscribers.

 

I am sorry to push you on this, but if you have released all data, how come not Hindustan Times and Hindustan?

Because we haven’t finished the review in it…

 

Then why release all the other data?

It’s not that Hindustan Times has asked us not to release the data. It is just that, that data is under review and we cannot release any data until Techcom finishes the review…

 

Is there some kind of a deadline to it?

See the next three-four days* will go in only getting the data out to the hundreds of subscribers. It’s a huge database so I don’t think Nielsen or the Techcom will be able to focus on anything else. Immediately after that, I am requesting them to straightaway start focusing on it and quickly finish it so it should happen soon but deadline actually Techcom chair Vikram Sakhuja would be the better person… (* this interview was conducted on Friday, April 26)

 

But the absence of Hindustan Times and Hindustan means that a lot of juice of the entire IRS results is missing

Frankly the ranking that happens is only when the trade media gets most excited about it. I don’t think the planners look at the ranking… they look at the leadership numbers and in few days hopefully…

 

Trade media finally just mirrors what the trade tells them. So when is Q2 going to be released and what date is planned?

The field has already started, typically while it supposed to be three months, it could well be four, because of rains or any other condition. It depends upon how long it takes and then Techcom takes roughly a few months to check it and so on. Quarterly is a bit misleading because people see it as a financial quarter.

 

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