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BW Businessworld

(Be)Rating Eyeballs

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A section of the broadcasters and other stakeholders have also joined in the issue. Kunal Dasgupta, CEO of Sony Television, said at the recent Ficci’s Frames-2008 conclave that it was high time the industry worked towards a national audience ratings system, and accused the current TAM Peoplemeter System operated by ACNielson of favouring the big networks.
The brouhaha is understandable, given that big money is riding on these audience ratings. TVRs represent the percentage of the target population watching a particular show and advertisers rely on this data when making media investments. Of the annual advertising worth Rs 16,300 crore, television corners 41 per cent or little over Rs 6,600 crore. It is true that the sample size of TAM’s Peoplemeter Systems, and its rival, Audience Measurement & Analytics (a-Map), is fairly small: TAM has little less than 7,000 households covering 148 towns, but excludes J&K, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam. The a-Map meter covers just 87 towns and about 6,000 homes. Both exclude homes that are not in 1-lakh-or-above population towns.
But there is more than meets the eye in this debate. The sample size and methodology can always be made the subject of controversy. A few years ago, TAM Media was at the receiving end of a Zee-orchestrated campaign. The lists of some of the households that were part of the sample in Mumbai were released to the press to prove that the sample households are an open secret and, therefore, can be influenced by broadcasters. Zee TV then had sunk to the bottom of the pecking order in audience ratings. Now, it is challenging Star Plus for the top slot, and TVR methodology is not an issue anymore! Sony Entertainment Television (SET), meanwhile, has steadily lost ground and is distressed about the TVRs its shows are getting.

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Doordarshan, too, is unhappy. It has a wide reach among rural households; but that does not seem to figure in its ratings. Doordarshan, like Zee TV, was at the top of the heap about a decade ago, but is nowhere in the reckoning in cable-connected TV homes today. This unhappiness has been conveyed to the I&B ministry, which is now determined to teach TAM Media a lesson.
TAM’s CEO, L.V. Krishnan, has questioned the need for government interference in what is essentially industry research. Should the government get involved in other industry surveys like exit polls or even newspaper readership surveys? he asks. He concedes that the sample size is small and skewed away from rural households. “Let the stake-holders increase their subscriptions and we can enlarge the sample size,” he retorts. Rural coverage, on the other hand, is restricted since just 50 million of the 150 million rural households have TV sets and only half of them are cable-connected. “Let the market mature, and we will provide the coverage,” he seems to be saying.
In all this sniping, private broadcasters and advertising bodies are a worried lot. They fear the government may use the disenchantment with TAM ratings to regulate audience ratings, or create its own ratings agency. This would be worse than TAM Media’s ‘skewed’ ratings. They are therefore wondering how to keep the I&B ministry off their turf.
In the ongoing debate, some important concerns need to be tackled. For instance, in advertising-driven television, broadcasters don’t view how strongly viewers like a programme, but only how many of them watch it. At the same time, the broadcasting industry needs to bury its differences and ensure measurement systems are free of government control. Meanwhile, the TAM Media model needs to be broad-based by including all stakeholders. In the UK, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, a non-profit company owned by a slew of broadcasters and reps of advertising bodies, controls and contracts out the measurement of audience ratings. Perhaps, a similar model would suit India.
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(Businessworld issue 22-28 April 2008)