There could be another overhaul of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) to make it a more robust currency within a year, Pratap Pawar, Chairman of the Media Research Users Council, has hinted.
In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Pawar, who's also the Chairman of Sakal Media Group, said that the sample size of the readership survey should at least be thrice of what it's currently.
Currently, IRS is released on the basis of interviews done with 3.30 lakh households (Urban: 2.14L Households and Rural: 1.15L Households).
The Q3 numbers for Indian Readership Survey (IRS) were released on Friday, excluding Andhra Pradesh and a few other markets.
IRS sample size to be expanded soon
When asked about the significant drop in the total readership numbers, especially with the regional publications, Pawar said, â€œOne of the major factors is the limitation on costs incurred on this study. Because of this, the sample of the survey is too low, compared to the total population. The sample should at least be three times of what it is now, in my view, but the cost limitation has to be taken into account, since subscribers can pay only that much."
"We are trying to expand the base, by trying to increase the number of interviews, but it will happen in time. We have some definitive plans by which you should see a striking change (read improvement) in six months to one yearâ€™s time," he said.
Even the Average Issue Readership (AIR), the metric used by the media planners, is also dropping significantly. The AIR number for leading publications such as the Times of India and the Hindustan Times had shrunk this quarter. The numbers for regional publications have also taken a hit.
â€œThere are so many factors that work behind the success of newspapers â€” penetration, perception, etc. Cities are getting more cosmopolitan. Take example of Pune, what was once predominantly a Marathi-speaking market has become pretty diversified, which means that consumption of language dailies will also get diversified. So while I'm still selling a significantly high number of copies in a year, it might not be visible in the data. It is majorly because of urbanisation and other changes happening in the society," he said.
Neilson survey staff undertrained
While there were some issues with the data collection in these markets and a re-survey is being done, the MRUC board did not want to keep the results for the whole country waiting. The complete data is expected to be released in about 2-3 weeks. The fact of the matter is that the currently released Q3 data has not given out an all-India level data for any specific publications. It only talks about the region and city-wise rankings.
Highlighting the problems with the on-ground survey agency Neilson, Pawar said, â€œThe field agents that Neilsen sends out for the survey are not trained professionals but more of naive staff, which is why there has been a lot of discrepancies in data collection, especially in the Hindi belt and AP."
Pawar said that in regions like J&K and Arunachal Pradesh not much could really be done because of the political unrest.
"We had to keep these regions aside, instead of giving half-baked data. This is purely a technical issue. All the committees decided that it is better that we hold the data. Once the rest of the data is released within 2-3 weeks, anyone can map the all-India ranking," he added.
Print stable despite the growth of digital
The print industry is facing a lot of headwinds in terms of financial pressure, leading to shutting and downsizing of editions.
IRS was aimed at beefing up the perception of print and show some stability. However, in the past one year, the market has seen several leading dailies shutting operations. The latest one being Deccan Chronicle shutting the shop last Friday, the day IRS Q3 2019 was released.
â€œPrint is very stable, despite the growth in digital. Deccan Chronicle was been limping because of its own problems for the last five years. It was doing impressively before it went into the financial crisis. It is difficult to maintain marketing, publishing and distribution. It is a daily cost running into millions. Now, if someone doesnâ€™t have those deep pockets, they will be forced to leave the market. DNA, on the other hand, couldnâ€™t succeed in penetrating the market as well as they should have. It is a costly affair to continue, once you face a major financial instability. These are exceptional cases, but most papers are fighting, taking efforts to digitise themselves, make better business sense and work with innovative areas," he said.
While continuing as to how can IRS help in the revival/survival of print, Pawar suggested that a lot depends on the last-mile planner.
He said, â€œIRS will help the market. But one can't be deciding on the plans sitting in an air conditioned room in a far-away town. Somebody sitting in Maharashtra canâ€™t decide the efficiency of a publication in Ludhiana and vice-versa. Planners must have on-ground idea of the market. They need to go deeper, think and look beyond the statistics. There is so much more that IRS tells you than just data. Numbers is one thing, but you must be able to know and understand the affinity of the publication, its market reputation, the trust that people have and which areas it affects, how does it affect people and the region," he said.
"Most planners are younger and are more comfortable with digital, which then becomes their first choice. Planners need to broaden their mindset," he added.