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Commentary: Much ado on TAM ratings – only to go back to square one!

The broadcasters frittered away a great opportunity to resolve their problems with ratings data by eschewing a process-oriented approach and instead taking to what many are calling a cartel approach   

Kalyan Kar
July 26, 2013

At the end it turned out to be a lot of hot air, drama and posturing that pitted a handful of powerful TV networks/channels against a set of equally powerful advertisers and the media agencies. The drama began on June 10, 2013 when a few leading television networks announced their decision to end their subscription to TAM or wrote to TAM Media Research expressing their intent to withdraw their subscription. The “big fight” came to an and yesterday with a consensus that is begging to be called a face saver for the broadcasters (of course, opinions will vary on this). As some senior honchos from the media buying and planning business said off the record, “Nothing has changed. Everything is the same! So what was all this about?”

If anybody has come unscathed, it is the beleaguered TAM Media Research which had become the whipping boy for the broadcasters. Under the consensus reached, TAM ratings will be available as it always has been – on weekly basis! The broadcasters demand for monthly ratings has been shot down at the end.

Yes, some modifications have been made in the way TAM will be made available by way of but with some filters, layers and restrictions, but in no way do they meet the original demands of the TV networks, namely, monthly ratings, namely, a CPT-only buying model, and a threshold level for niche channels.

An anguished and livid head of a leading GEC whose network had pulled out of TAM subscription, said on condition of anonymity, “So what was all this brouhaha about? We are back to square one! It was foolhardy to have even demanded moving to monthly ratings when the world is moving towards daily ratings.”

A veteran of the media business, who has seen it all in a long and illustrious career, echoed the same sentiment when he said just a few days back, “Asking for monthly ratings data was a retrograde demand to begin with when the world is moving towards more real-time and daily ratings. It just cannot work this way.”

He was right after all, going by the consensus formula.

But did the broadcasters have a case to start with? One would like to think they did. Their issue was with the manner in which TAM Media Research functioned – grossly inadequate people meters leading to skewed and imperfect data; wild fluctuations week to week; an unresponsive attitude to their subscribers, etc.

After all, one doesn’t need to be a great economist, pollster or statistician to know that 9,000-odd people meters cannot do justice to a country as geographically large as India, with 1.25 billion people, a highly fragmented market owing to multiple languages, etc. It is like trying to do a credible exit poll with a sample of just 9,000 people spread over the entire country for a General Election!

TAM always argued that it for the industry to fund the increase in people meters. Broadcasters then pointed out that TAM, “in the name of proprietary technology, demanded $3,000 for each people meter even though the hardware is available in the market for $300”. That is a matter of debate.

Broadcasters were also rightly miffed that the CPRP model and the fluctuating weekly data had been proving costly for them over the years as advertisers got away with “ridiculously low rates for ad spots”. Fair point this.

So what went wrong at the end?

A few senior industry professionals feel that the manner in which the fight happened was wrong as it was tantamount to cartelization. Their argument ran: “This was a clear case of cartelisation by a few leading networks who happen to control 100-odd TV channels. They have the clout, at least so they thought. The mistake these broadcasters made is that they did not follow the process for redressal by taking into confidence all stakeholders. They should have first taken the media agencies and the advertisers, that is, the AAAI and ISA, into confidence. The industry has three sets of players – broadcasters, advertisers, media agencies. But this was a unilateral move by a powerful few.”

They further said: “What they did not realise is that the advertisers are never going to be pushovers. They are the ones with the money, so they will always try to have the upper hand. Therefore, a process-oriented approach would have worked much better and without creating any ill-will or hardening of stance.”

The point here is that at the end of the day the advertisers have options – after all, brands have become brands through print advertising for more than a century. Television advertising has certain advantages but it is not the only option. Advertisers like HUL and automobile companies have established a strong presence on digital. If push came to a shove, the advertisers had other options to fall back on, at least in the short-term. Unfortunately, broadcasters did not have such options – any option would only have hurt their revenue stream in the short-term and hit their balance sheet. Here is the bottom line: advertisers make their money from selling their products, TV channels make their money from running their ads.

Therefore, a process-driven approach with the other two stakeholders to resolve their concerns would have worked far better and far more smoothly.

All that the broadcasters have now got is a blanket ban on the news media reporting TRP ratings. And they cannot afford to leak out data even when they do very well as they will now have to sign a NDA with TAM.

At the end, the advertisers lost nothing really. And TAM is the happiest as it now has “a common brief from the three industry stakeholders (IBF, ISA and AAAI)”. As for broadcasters, they will now bank on a reversal of the cancellation orders by advertisers.

Also read: GEC Watch: Star Plus stays on top as Colors cements No. 2 position The modalities of the ratings settlement with TAM IBF, AAAI, ISA and TAM reach settlement on data reporting


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