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Guest Times: Look before you leap – resolving TAM impasse may not need drastic steps

Sudha Natrajan and Raghav Subramanian, media veterans and Co-founders The Media Consultants (TMC), take a close look at the key issues behind the ratings controversy and suggest innovative ways to resolve the stalemate. For one, TAM should shift to the New Consumer Classification System (NCCS) instead of sticking to the old SEC

Delhi, July 22, 2013

Raghav Subramanian and Sudha Natrajan

The adage ‘Rome was not built in a day’ could not have been truer today, when the media, advertising and marketing industry in India is grappling with its worst crisis ever. But in the same breath, we would like to quickly add that the British adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is also very critical at this juncture. TV audience measurement in India has been going through a crisis for a long time now with the issue reaching a crescendo this year. We are probably the only country which invests Rs 30,000-odd crore in a year on the basis of data provided by a supplier who is not subject to any audit and process regulation as decisions in the area of research and commerce are vested with the same set of people. The entire structure would have to change on the lines of models in other countries.

While a step in the right direction has been taken with the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which is a Joint Industry Board comprising advertisers, broadcasters and agencies, beginning its work, we are still many moons away from a better alternative. Till then we will have to make do with what we have. And what we have has been assumed gold standard so far. Does not deserve to be junked, just needs a bit more accountability and inclusive of all stakeholders.

Broadcasters pushing for monthly reporting may be a very myopic view of the larger problem. This is regressive and defeats the purpose of apple to apple comparison between the channels. It also derails the purpose of using a TV audience measurement system. There are other short and medium-term solutions to be evaluated before resigning to something drastic.

The common complaints which broadcasters, advertisers and agencies have had with TAM are as follows:

  • Need to increase Sample size: This is a very sweeping statement to make as the peoplemeter size is 8,000-odd; consequently a sample of 32,428 still works out to be a relative error of 3-5% at an all-India level which is in line with most research/databases across the globe. Having said that, currently with a sample size of 8,000-odd meters, the relative error might vary widely to as much as three digits. This might not be optimal for a country of the size and diversity of India but it is not easy to ramp up meters until and unless all stakeholders agree to invest, which is not very easy as broadcasters continue to bear 80% of the cost of keeping TAM afloat.

Given that the objective of this article is to talk about short and medium-term changes which TAM can make to keep all its users happy, increasing sample is an extremely long-term option and not viable this financial year.

  • TAM has not kept pace with DAS reality: There are several dilutions in the robustness of the database on account of TAM pre-empting the supply of digital STBs and consequently the size of digital homes and the digitisation rate in the country. The reality is that the digitisation rate is much slower than what TAM has estimated it to be. For eg., the Tamil Nadu government still has a stay order on digitisation in Chennai while the Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh governments have also got a stay order, but TAM has factored digitization in these states and has reworked its sample and universe basis estimates. Kolkata also reports a very low implementation of DAS. This has resulted in a huge amount of fluctuation. An example of the impact Phase 1 of DAS has had on the sample and universe sizes in the four metros for the TG Male 15-24 SEC AB.
    • Delhi data post DAS is more volatile than Mumbai’s as a 12% drop in sample still results in a mere 2% drop in universe
    • Most markets report low sample size for this TG across these weeks
    • Media market-wise data would be best seen as a state  picture or at HSM and All-India level to ensure robustness and a more accurate read
    • Any disaggregation to micro levels could lead to huge relative errors.
    • With the denominator turning into a variable, the rating shows fluctuation at both genre and channel level.

The solution to this is to go back and get a reality check on DAS implementation and restructure the current sample to restore balance and to limit viewership fluctuation.

  • This year was indeed a bad time to include ‘Less than Class One’ (LC1) in states like UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and MP. TAM has attempted greater granularity on the same peoplemeter base, thereby ensuring lesser and inadequate representation of sample across population strata across the country.

It is imperative for users to realise that TVR has a very strong correlation to sample and universe. For example, the relative error of estimate for the TG Female 25+ SEC ABC is 20.4% which means a potential rating fluctuation of 20.4% in Mumbai; this number goes up to 75% in case of LC1 in Maharashtra. This kind of fluctuation has had a direct impact on the performance of many channels in recent months which has irked the broadcasters. Inclusion of LC1 until the peoplemeters and sample size increases is not a viable option. Our view would be for TAM to remove LC1 reporting for the time being.

These were the short-term suggestions to get the system going again. There is a medium-term solution which should be implemented at the earliest.

We are of the opinion that TAM should shift to the New Consumer Classification System (NCCS) instead of sticking to the old SEC. TAM’s 2012 baseline study must have captured the education of the CWE and the ownership of a set of predetermined durables to move into the NCCS. Clearly the NCCS represents niche/special content channels better than the current SEC which would then end the need for TVR (‘000) and the need for better representation of data. The chart below shows how genres that have before been negligible have now seen a big increase based on NCCS.

Frequency channels will benefit a whole lot from this and the gap between GEC and other genres will narrow down. Brands on the other hand will start to relook their audience as IRS alone will not be able to do this. The wake-up call comes when the TV investment gets impacted.

(This article represents the views of TMC – The Media Consultants. You can reach us at Raghav@tmccorp.in or Sudha@tmccorp.in)

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