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Guest Times: Will the BARC be more effective than the bite?

Sudha Natrajan, former CEO of Lintas Media Group and currently Co-founder of TMC- The Media Consultants, takes a look at what went wrong with TAM ratings and how ownership and technology are stacked in favour of the BARC ratings

Delhi | May 18, 2015

Sudha Natrajan Sudha Natrajan

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything"- George Bernard Shaw

Can we even imagine a world where a student sets his own examination paper and corrects it himself? A world where the appraiser and the appraisee are the same? Why should a Rs.12,000-crore industry have a buying and planning currency, i.e., TAM, which is conceptualized by a research agency and allow it to sell the currency without any controls or third party checks?

Well, we as an industry have allowed that to happen for a little over a decade now. The currency was allowed a free run inspite of the fact that it was owned by the parent holding company of the largest media trading company in India. We Indians are a tolerant lot, we might have even let it pass if not for the standoffish"...we have done nothing wrong" attitude of TAM. There were repeated incidents of errors of commission, omission and serious statistical flaws which have been pointed out to TAM by various stakeholders over the years. They were dismissive of it, taking their monopoly for granted. History has taught us time and again that there is no place for cockiness anywhere in life especially in battle and in business.

No business today can survive without listening to the “voice” of its customers. The incident involving Lenskart and Scoop Whoop during the aftermath of the tragic Nepal quake is a wake-up call to all of us. Our status in the market is bestowed upon us by the consumer; we cannot and should not take them for granted.

2013 was an eventful year on the ratings front. Several broadcasters were unhappy with the fluctuations in TV rating points post the addition of LC1 markets, with ratings dropping for some large broadcasters. Many broadcasters discontinued their TAM subscriptions till the middle of the year and the issue was settled only after TAM switched from TVRs to TVTs that would show growth in audiences in absolute numbers.

The broadcasting and advertising industries have long been vocal about the need for more competition in the television ratings measurement service in India. With this objective, BARC was initially registered in July 2010, and was launched in March 2013. BARC is a joint body of advertisers and broadcasters with three shareholders – IBF, AAAI and ISA. IBF holds 60 per cent in the JV, with the balance 40 per cent equity being shared by AAAI and ISA. BARC has been formed on similar lines as BARB (Broadcast Audience Research Board) that compiles audience measurement and television ratings in the UK. The broadcasting industry has in the past indicated that transparency is a key pillar for BARC, and the latter is looking to segregate the functions of data collection, analysis and reporting between three independent agencies.

BARC has selected Médiamétrie, a French audience measurement company, as its ratings partner after evaluating multiple bids. The new ratings system is up and running with data reported for Week 1, 2and 3 of the new system, they have begun with 20,000 panels compared to the existing 9,600 provided by TAM and the plan is to gradually increase the panel size to 50,000. This is in line with TRAI television rating guidelines cleared by the Cabinet that stipulate a television ratings provider ought to have at least 20,000 panels and must increase the panel size by 10,000 every year to eventually reach 50,000. The ratings are stable as of now basis the report of the 1st and 2ndweek. The main advantage of the new system is the coming together of experts from all areas of research to create the world's largest TV audience measurement system by collaborating with each other. The relative error is expected to go down significantly on the back of superior technology and methodology.

The main evolution over the next three years is going to be wider and deeper coverage of the fast expanding audience for conventional television. Looking beyond, it becomes clear that audiences consuming content on alternative, personal devices will continue to grow in double-digit percentages and even pure-play online content will attract such sizable audiences that it will demand agnostic measurement. PCs, Smartphones and Tablets will be the new frontiers for measurement and we will shift to thinking measurement of audio-visual (AV) content rather than television (TV) content

Why cannot both BARC and TAM co-exist?

India is not a stranger to dual currencies of measurement or research. In 1994, India moved from the dairy method to the peoplemeter method through INTAM backed by ORG-MARG with a sample size of 4,405 meters. In 1997, a Joint Industry Body much in the same way as BARC commissioned TAM owned by Nielsen to measure TV viewership. In 2001 INTAM and TAM merged as ORG-MARG merged into Nielsen. Between late 1999 and 2001 both the currencies existed, creating a lot of confusion.

1. BARC is doing to TAM what TAM did to INTAM: Out with the old and outdated and in with the new and contemporary. Had INTAM kept pace with TAM in terms of technology and methodology, both could have co-existed with the end user having more choice.

2. Now, the story of Amap. It came up as an alternative to TAM backed by superior metering technology and faster reporting timelines. However, it did not get the industry backing on account of pedigree in research, financial backing, etc.

3. There might be scope for TAM to co-exist with BARC provided TAM catches up on methodology and technology and manages to polarise the industry, and thus create a market for itself. Here is the catch: Nielsen has deep pockets to sustain TAM without industry support. However, given that BARC is a joint body with the representation of all stakeholders, shifting to TAM would mean taking the industry's judgement head on, which most stakeholders including GroupM, part of the WPP Group which owns TAM, will shy away from doing.

Therefore, till the next champion comes along with differential thinking and a consumer-centric mindset, it is BARC all the way, more so because it is a commissioner of research and not an entity which does the research itself.

Will BARC become a bigger monopoly than TAM?

  1. The BARC board has six representatives from the broadcast industry including one from Doordarshan, two from the advertiser fraternity, and two from the agency side. Only five of the 14 tech-comm members are from the broadcast Industry, one representative of the government through DAVP, two from the advertiser community, two from agencies and the other four being neutral industry experts. Both the apex body of BARC and the team controlling the research is adequately represented by a diverse team of experts. Polarisation of views impact the sanctity of the research, therefore it is highly unlikely. Given that it is an industry body set up to measure itself under the watchful eyes of the government, advertisers and agencies, it would be short-sighted on the broadcast industry’s part to attempt any cartelisation.
  2. If people are worried about smaller channels suffering and becoming victims of cartelisation, the reps in key roles within the body who do not represent broadcasters will act as watch guards and take counter measures. The ratings released for the initial three weeks do not even suggest any such cartelisation as many smaller channels which have been known to have good programming have begun to come into their own.

It is highly unlikely for any monopolisation or restrictive trade practice occurring in this set-up.

Why BARC is better than anything seen so far

  • Transparency: BARC India follows the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s notification with regard to:
  • Sample size: The minimum panel size is 20,000 reporting homes, and this number will rise by 10,000 homes every year until it reaches 50,000 reporting panel homes.
  • Ownership: No broadcasting or advertising company will be allowed to hold more than 10% of BARC’s shares.
  • Audit: Would be subjected to both external and internal audit.
  • Advanced watermarking technology: BARC uses an advanced, audience measurement technique – audio watermarking – to track content through its broadcast cycle. This is a code inserted into the audio channel of the television signal which transmits through the distribution platforms and cannot be, either deleted or overwritten in the cryptographic family it adopts. This increases the integrity and reliability of the data generated by BARC’s ratings.
  • Includes rural households in sample: In the first round, about 30% of the sample comprises rural households, at an all-India level.
  • Comprehensive reporting: BARC India’s system reports the following also:
    • Time shifted viewing: Metrics of programmes that are recorded and viewed later. We observe VOSDAL+7, i.e., Viewed on Same Day as Live + 7 days after.
    • Simulcast viewing: Details of programmes broadcast simultaneously on more than one channels – viewership of every individual channel can be reliably tracked.
  • New SEC (NCCS): Details as per the new classification based on the education of Chief Wage Earner of the family and the number of durables owned by the home from a predefined list of 11 durables.
  • Advanced BAR-O-meters: The BAR-O-meters placed in metered homes are compact and use the latest technology. They have a 3rd-generation OLED display (being more easily visible, this facilitates interaction between the viewer and the bar-o-meter) and an embedded SIM to automatically upload viewing data.As they are indigenously manufactured, they cost almost one-sixth the price of imported meters, which lets BARC to deploy a lot more of them to measure viewership.
  • Platform agnostic: The BARC India system captures data about TV content consumed through any form of distribution – Terrestrial, DTH, Analog Cable, Digital Cable and Digital.
  • Slow and steady progression: The next 90 days will have only household ratings till the panel stabilises, the sample is currently around 10,000 with rural and other pilots running without reporting to ensure stability. Overall, the relative errors will be significantly lower than that of TAM.

The entire industry has put its best foot forward on BARC, and I can optimistically say that there are not many stones that have been left unturned. This BARC will definitely be much more effective.


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