For the last two months advertisers and broadcasters have been fighting over the rating system that need to be adopted during this period when the industry is transitioning fr0m analogue to digital. The dispute over television ratings escalated to the point that had raised the prospect of companies withdrawing their commercials fr0m TV channels.
TV ratings are provided by TAM based on the data received fr0m about 8000 peoplemeters installed in select consumer homes all across the country. TAM is a joint venture between Nielsen (India) Pvt. Ltd and Kantar Market Research that rates TV programmes based on the percentage of viewers watching them. It is under considerable pressure after some key broadcasters stopped subscribing to the ratings data. TAM's revenue source is annual subscription mainly fr0m these large 'pay' TV broadcasters. These broadcasters wanted TAM to provide them monthly ratings rather than weekly which is the norm for the last many years.
Advertisers and agencies maintained that they could not base their investments on monthly data, as it left them no room for assessment or course correction.
When the broadcasters refused to budge, close to 25 of the top Indian advertisers including Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), Procter and Gamble India Ltd, Marico Ltd, Dabur India Ltd, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd, Colgate-Palmolive (India) Ltd, Tata Teleservices Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Britannia Industries Ltd and L'Oreal India Pvt. Ltd who account for 40% of all advertising spending, sent letters to broadcasters earlier this month, asking them to revert to the weekly rating system or face the withdrawal of ads.
The key stakeholders have now agreed to work together until a mutually agreeable audience measurement system is established, according to a joint statement by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI).
Broadcasters had objected to weekly data fr0m TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, the television audience measurement agency, saying that this didn't reflect viewership numbers and were subject to inexplicable fluctuations. They instead insisted on monthly data. The advertisers said such a move was regressive and made it difficult for them to judge the popularity of shows and therefore how to allocate expenditure.
The stakeholders agreed that TAM will make all future changes based on inputs fr0m the joint-industry Broadcast Audience Research Council technical committee. A new rating system under the Broadcast Audience Research Council, a body being set up by broadcasters at the behest of the government, will take another year or so to be operational. “As three concerned constituents who believe in working together, we have decided to refer all future currency-related changes to the BARC technical committee. I am glad we will now have an effective guide and monitor for ratings in the country,” said Hemant Bakshi, chairman of ISA's media committee and managing committee.
According to the joint statement, all data issued to the media and the public will be in the television viewership in thousands (TVT) format, which captures and reflects growth in TV audiences in the country in absolute numbers. This is the only rating that will be issued in the public domain.
For internal evaluation such as media planning and buying, the data supplied to advertisers and media agencies will offer weekly television rating points (TVR) and all other information that had been made available to them in the past.
In addition, TVT as a four-week rolling average will be provided each week as an option. The rolling average would provide statistically more stable data on viewership, especially for smaller audiences in niche channels, regional languages, English language programs and news, the statement said.
“We are delighted to have reached this agreement. We believe it is important for the industry, and fr0m the perspective of our social responsibility, we must reflect both the growing television audience and the data in a more stable and useful manner,” said Man Jit Singh, president, IBF.
Weekly numbers are a critical input, said Arvind Sharma, president of the Advertising Agencies Association of India.
“Getting weekly TVR is important for media planners and buyers to effectively plan and buy ad-spots and do mid-plan course corrections and post-facto analysis. We are glad that we have been able to agree that the agencies and advertisers will have access to this data as in the past,” said Sharma. “Fr0m tomorrow, we look forward to being able to focus back on our clients' businesses and effective planning and buying for their brands.”
A number of broadcasters had voiced their concerns over weekly television ratings data being available in the public domain. This data was often used by channels to stake their claim to the number one spot in that genre.
“I think the biggest bone of contention for broadcasters was that this data would be used (by channels) to show that they were ahead of the others, that these numbers were often misleading and created biases,” said Mayank Shah, group products head, Parle Products Pvt. Ltd, adding that this issue had been addressed. “This (arrangement) ensures that broadcasters' concerns are taken care of, and advertisers and media buyers continue to have access to data which will help them make informed decisions on investments.”
One of the main worries was with regard to keeping information confidential. “Some checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that confidentiality is maintained,” said Ashish Bhasin, chairman, India, and chief executive officer, South-East Asia, Aegis Media.
The finer details of the accord were ironed out and all the parties concerned had agreed on how the television audience measurement data would be sliced and disseminated. This was laid down in an agreement that was signed by all three parties.
A TAM spokesperson said, “TAM is happy to receive a common brief fr0m the three industry stakeholders and will work very closely with them to ensure its smooth rollout.”
This problem should have been envisaged at the beginning of mandatory digitization as broadcasters as well as TAM knew that once consumers get the power to choose their favourite channels, there will be drastic changes in the viewership pattern. Only best of the content will survive.
According to IBF president & MSM CEO Man Jit Singh TAM was losing its credibility and reliability. Fluctuations in the ratings have become a matter of great concern. The GEC market has shrunk by 20 per cent. The entire IBF has complained and expressed their frustration and asked for a suitable explanation but none came.
The fact of the matter is that when more channels reach the consumers and consumers select a-la-carte channels to control their billing, TAM ratings will undergo many changes. More reduction in viewership will be seen when all subscribers exercise their choice of channels. Many of them may opt only for the basic package of FTA channels. Now only the two phases of Digitisation are over. One can imagine what will happen when the whole country becomes digital.