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Commentary: TV viewership data – for whom is it, anyway?

With less than 10 brands subscribing to the BARC data, is it supposed to help the media agencies and broadcasters alone? Why did the advertisers become so careless about each penny spent on TV ads?

As scholar Aaron Levenstein famously said, “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

Audience measurement is one such statistical data which drives the advertising monies in the world. What happens if the ‘bikini’ (data) is sized (skewed) to not fit the body (media platform/ media brand) that is being measured? Those billions of dollars that go into the advertising business will go for a toss. Sounds dreadful, isn’t it?

Well, let’s take a closer look at the Indian perspective.

Almost all broadcasters and media agencies subscribe to BARC data but only a handful of advertisers subscribe to BARC’s Media Workstation (BMW) software. 

Multi-nationals such as P&G, ITC and HUL and home-grown brands like Vini Cosmetics and Emami are among the few brands subscribing to BARC data.  

BARC, which replaced TAM three years ago, is an industry body governed by a board that has participation from ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers), AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India) and the IBF (Indian Broadcasting Federation). However, ISA just has 20 per cent representation on the board, whereas IBF has 60 per cent. 

Outside India, audience measurement is majorly funded and supported by the spenders and not the earners. This is because in developed economies TV revenues are majorly driven by subscription model instead of relying on advertisers. The brands and marketing agencies have a greater need to advertise than the media owners’ need to carry those ads – which is just not the case in India where broadcasters rely heavily on advertisers for revenue. 

It also reflects the composition of BARC, which is majorly supported by revenue from broadcasters and media agency subscriptions. 

Why advertisers don't subscribe BARC data

Here we try to understand why do so few advertisers subscribe to BARC data when they park most of their ad spend on TV? Do brands rely too much on media agencies and are advertisers aware whether their money is being spent on the right platform?

I spoke to many brand-custodians and media heads on the advertisers’ side to understand why exactly they refrain from handling BARC data on their own and why there is so much dependence on the agencies?

Among the brands that subscribe to BARC, most advertisers are home-grown and run by the promoters themselves, and hence, this might be making them more sensitive to each penny they spend.

However, isn’t it the responsibility of all the brand custodians to be equally calculative and careful about investing?

Even if the measurement softwares have always been dealt with by the media agencies, isn’t it time that advertisers take the plunge into the measurement data pool to analyse where is their money going?

After all, it is the advertisers’ money that ends up in a great RoI scheme/ or it goes for a toss.

Ultimately, no matter how much people talk about perception and the need to grow out of the dependence on data, people swear by numbers and statistics every minute. As they say, “In God, we trust. All others must bring data.”

So then, why don't advertisers get into number crunching themselves?

Is costing a major issue?

For broadcasters, migrating from TAM to BARC has been costly as subscription cost has gone up substantially.

In the initial days, BARC always claimed that the costing would be ‘similar to its predecessor TAM India. However, when BARC was launched, the situation was different. To start with, the broadcasters were expected to make investment for the watermarking technology, which came out to be about Rs 18-20 lakh per channel – which made it close to Rs 5-6 crore for a major network. In addition, each broadcaster was asked to pay about one per cent of their advertising revenue to BARC, which was later negotiated to 0.8 per cent (as per multiple sources). Now, the question arises that why will a medium-sized network with advertising revenue about Rs 200-250 crore per year shell out Rs 1.5-2 crore (plus about one crore for watermarking), when the earlier cost was barely Rs 30-40 lakh. This is almost 5-6 times more. This was a huge pushback for broadcasters.

Unlike for broadcasters, the mathematics of costing for media agencies is a bit complex but easily affordable. At the same time, most of the agencies charge their clients for their BARC subscription.

For advertisers, the general perception is that their cost is also calculated on the basis of advertising spend, which is not the case.

In order to encourage more advertisers to come on board as subscribers, BARC has a reasonable entry cost for them. The advertisers with a total ad spend of Rs 500-600 crore currently pay BARC much less than a crore annually as subscription fee. 

So is it the case that advertisers refrain from directly subscribing to BARC because they have already paid for it to their agencies? It seems to be the case with many advertisers I spoke to.

Complexity of data keeping advertisers at bay

In addition to costing, complexity of data is also a turn-off for the advertiser which makes them averse to coming closer to the data. 

An advertiser mentioned, “Ever since BARC has come in, there has not been a consistent six-month duration when BARC didn’t have a change in baseline or no update upgrade. Every time, there is a 20 per cent of variant.”

That’s true. BARC’s change has been too rapid and the growth, too fast. Possibly, the industry’s blueprint wanted achieve too much in a too little time. The data has not stabilised even after two years. A lot of advertisers are the founding partners and have given a corporate guarantee which everyone will have to abide by. There’s no parallel option.

When I spoke to a senior advertiser who has been into the media buying from the client side for over 20 years, he expressed a sense of frustration. He mentioned how it gets very irritating when the BARC data comes every week and the fluctuations do not make sense. He has given up and doesn’t analyse data personally to check the sense of the data given out by the software. People have only started catching up with data updates verbally from their agencies, not analysing anything more.

Blanket spending by brands makes weekly numbers irrelevant

Traditional logic for brands in India is to go with the gut and that’s what they are doing – ‘spending on the most visible properties’. 

One of the heaviest spenders right now – the handset category is going in the same direction. Other than Samsung, almost all big spenders in the category are aggressive Chinese players that have a different format. They are buying out the biggest properties on all platforms – TV, on ground and everywhere else. They are possibly not bothered with the data much and have left their agencies to do the math.

Are media agencies hiding too much from advertisers?

I was surprised to know that a lot of advertisers did not know that BARC released data for HD channels too, that too right from the inception of the measurement agency. It is quite well known that the advertisers (most of them) do not know a lot of other aspects of the data too.

Are media agencies guilty of keeping their clients ill-informed? If it is the case, shouldn’t the advertisers opt for audited agencies? 

So here is how I observe the changes from TAM to BARC era:

Cost has increased – So all the stakeholders will have to live with it.

Too much democracy can change too many things at once – Isn’t it what all of us wanted?

Consultancy to broadcasters is now given via third-party agencies – It is the growing need to excel in the new environment.

Most of the agencies seem to be passing on the subscription cost to clients

Advertisers’ dependence on agencies have increased – While advertisers need to be aware about where is their money being spent, isn’t it incumbent upon agencies to inform their clients well?

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