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BW Businessworld

Made To Measure

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One might not have heard yet the last on broadcaster NDTV’s spat with television audience measurement services provider, TAM. Last known, WPP, the global holding company for communication agencies, has filed a motion to dismiss NDTV’s petition with the NY Supreme Court.

Whatever be the outcome, this issue once again brings into the spotlight the effectiveness of consumer measurement systems in India. Are our consumer measurement systems up to date with the market? “The answer is both yes and no. While we say that the sample size is inadequate, the question is how much accuracy are we demanding and how much are we willing to pay for it? This at the core of the issue,” says Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison.

In case of television audience measurement, where NDTV filed a suit in New York to recover $1 billion in damages from Nielsen and WPP who jointly own TAM in India, the allegation is that our audience measurement system in television viewership is not tamper proof.

One of the issues that keep cropping up from time to time is that the list of consumer panel homes that house TAM’s measurement devices (PeopleMeters) is not confidential. The last time this issue came under scrutiny was in 2001, when ZEE released the list of households having PeopleMeters, to point out how the system was vulnerable.

The NDTV suit too mentions this by pointing out that vested interests engage in “discovering the panel homes that have PeopleMeters installed in them, doctoring data emerging from parallel homes”. For instance, a separate TV is provided in select panel homes by those who want to rig that ratings for viewing the channels they genuinely like to watch, while the TV linked to the meter is tuned to specified channels. In some cases, there is misuse of the guest button and up to 10 guests are shown watching TV even when there is no one there. Specified marketing in localities that have panel homes, subverting the technician and using him to “fix” the PeopleMeter while tuning and skipping channels in the process are some of the other allegations. Also the consumer panel is allegedly not revamped frequently, with some homes having PeopleMeters continuing in the panel for six or more years when no home should be in the sample for more than 2-3 years.

In the measurement of print media too, there have been the occasional voices of dissent when irate members threatened to walk out of surveys like the IRS (Indian Readership Survey).

But senior media executives in the country feel that the scene in India is not too bad. Most sample survey based measurement systems, be it the IRS, TAM, RAM (Radio audience measurement) or the Nielsen retail audits come under intense scrutiny from time to time. “Around the world these come under attack, particularly when data collection is manual,” says Ravi Kiran, chairperson of the marketing committee for the Media Research Users Council (MRUC). But he adds that, subject to limitations of sample size, as a methodology media research in India is not exactly “a banana republic”.

Shashi Sinha, CEO, media services agency Lodestar UM, says that India has been one of the early adopters of PeopleMeters as a technology in television audience measurement. “Many parts of the US still use the dairy system to record television viewing, something that we gave up long back,” he says.

Many feel that the practice of an industry body controlling media measurement that prevails largely in India is a healthy one. Television has been a medium where that’s yet to happen, with measurement being controlled by a private player. But with the cry for a Broadcast Audience Research Council only getting louder, the future may well be different.