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IRS 2017: Ashish Bhasin, Shashi Sinha and NP Sathyamurthy on industry’s concerns

The new committee blames lack of clarity and consensus for the data dark period of four years but is hopeful about the continuity of IRS

(L-R) Ashish Bhasin, Shashi Sinha and NP Sathyamurthy

The anxiousness of industry stakeholders was evident around the much-awaited return of the Indian Readership Survey. Whether or not the new survey has answers to most of their concerns would be known after they deep dive into the data. A larger concern gathered by from across the industry was credibility. This would be the key to a lesser controversy, which will further decide the fate of the continuity of the survey. took most of the industry’s concerns to Ashish Bhasin, Chairman, MRUC; Shashi Sinha, RSCI Managing Committee Chairman; and NP Sathyamurthy, Chairman, RSCI Technical Committee, to seek their answers.

The core committee is of the view that no publisher or any other stakeholder should question the data as they have been involved in the process from day one.

The trio said that no comparison should be made between the 2014 and 2017 data sets. “Just like you can’t compare TAM data with present day BARC numbers, you can’t compare IRS 2014 with IRS 2017,” they said.

“Also, it will be a continuous exercise. The data maybe released, annually, half yearly or quarterly but the survey will always be ongoing,” they claimed.


What are your thoughts on the study?

Bhasin: I think this is going to be a landmark study. The study of this sample size has never been done anywhere in the world. Also it is coming in India after four years when we haven’t had data for print. This is a continuous process and is not the end of it. Rather it is the start of it all, it will keep on improving and increasing as we go forward. Sometimes you need an inflection point to start off. Everybody was sceptical about that we won’t be able to launch it but we have proven that by launching this. From here, hopefully it will be taken forward and keep growing.

IRS has been mapped on the basis of census figures for a long time. We are talking about the 2011 demographics in 2017. Why hasn’t it occurred to the agency to conduct its own research-establishment survey?

Bhasin: Census is the only data available and it is a pan-India survey. Any other survey is a sample. The IRS is the world’s biggest sample, but it is still just a sample and not a whole India survey. It includes 3.2 lakh people. Census is 100 per cent coverage, which only the government can do. Establishment survey mirrors/ captures that for a smaller audience set. No sample as robust as this has been done. There is nothing separate in the establishment survey, it is the universe thrown up by the IRS study.

Sinha: Ours is a projection data, so while we are comparing with the census, we have done our own study from the scratch. Census is the base, but the study has been completely done afresh. Every year, the government releases an estimation of the growth and we have used that for our study. It’s a reference point, no connection with the census. Ours is a sample of 3.20 lakh.

The anxiety in the industry is at its peak. Why did it take four years?

Bhasin: There were a lot of issues initially and I was not even involved in the past. I can talk about this survey and not about the history of what happened in the past. To get the consensus of the entire industry and to put their weight behind it, it takes a lot of energy and I must compliment everybody that they came together – publishers, media agencies and clients. All came together and finally today we are seeing this happy day.

To my mind, research should be continuous. This should not have ideally happened. Whatever periodicity you decided – if it is once a year, stick to once a year. It is a pity that it isn’t good for any industry to have a break in research. Data dark periods are not good for anybody. I hope it doesn’t happen again.

Sinha: For three years, there was lack of clarity and consensus. We started work in late 2016 and worked through the year in 2017 to bring out the data. The publishers had issues with the committee, which resulted in the halt of data for three years. We worked for a year and we released the report now.

Will this IRS be able to maintain the credibility of the earlier one and have the same continuity? Between 2012 and 2014, there was a gap of two years, now four years. So what next now? Will it be annually or quarterly?

Bhasin: IRS, now, in the new design, is a continuous research. Every day there are people in the field, everyday there’s data collection, we are at the moment reporting data annually as 2017, but going forward we can make it half yearly or quarterly, that’s up to us. The research is continuous and the reporting is annual as of now.

Sathya: Currently it is annual. This year, certainly we will do half yearly. We can’t do quarterly at a national level because there will be less time for rural and all. But in the third quarter of this year, we started putting out data of larger towns.

What do you mean by continuous collection of data?

Sathya: Every month, there will be field work. We won’t do it for five months and say it is annual report. For seasonal products like Chawanprash, if we don’t do sample in winters, we won't know it; glucose powder, if we don't do it in summer, we won't know it. Field work has to be continuous. We will be increasing the sample to 3.60 lakh in the next year.

What has been done to ensure the data is accepted and to avoid any conflict?

Sathya: Unlike the previous editions, we have involved them right at the beginning – questionnaire design. They have had a say. Even in techcomm, there were a lot of publishers and TV station representatives. But in validation, we don't include the publishers. The interested parties are not involved in the validation committee. Every quarter, we validate the data.

Now, since many of them are involved right from the beginning, the number of people complaining should come down.

Are you expecting new advertisers to come in?

Sathya: Advertisers have no other data to decide, what is the combination of media to be used in which market? Whether Kerala should be only print or Lucknow should be radio and cinema? There is no other such database. We are reporting about 95 cities. In all important cities that matter to advertisers, we are giving the data. Hence it’s the world’s largest survey.

What changed in four years that the metric has been changed? Do you see moving away from AIR to TR as a big breakthrough when it comes to controversies around IRS?

Sinha: The metric hasn’t changed. We spoke about total readership (TR). But the software has all four metric – AIR, three days, seven days and TR. This has been done so that people can take informed decisions. TR has not been newly introduced. It has been reintroduced, it was present till 2012. Only in the 2014 edition, TR was removed from the report.

Why do you say 2014 can’t be compared with 2017 data and methodology?

Bhasin: First of all, there was no Total Readership (TR) in 2014, so you would not be able to compare if you wanted to. You had to set a reference, a context. So, this is only at a very macro level for setting the context. Nowhere at the state level or at a publication level had a comparison been ever done earlier. This is at a macro industry level. There was no TRs available in 2014.

How about comparing AIRs? Is your system going to throw that up?

Bhasin: They should not compare and that’s the guideline we have given. If they do, then they are comparing an apple with an orange. That will be a foolish thing to do and it will lead to bad planning. So, you noticed a lot of times Sathya emphasised on it. It’s like how you can’t compare TAM and BARC – one has 8,000 meters, other has 30,000 meters and the ways of the two are completely different.

Sathya: AIRs are available and everybody can use it. There are reasons why we gave out that data too. One has to see micro trends for their own publication – how many people read in one month, how many are reading seven days, how many are reading every three days. People who are not reading every day or every week – how can I make them regular readers? They can plan their product. As advertisers, they can use it for multimedia planning. Then, there is for trading – what is the right price I should pay to the advertiser. AIR is yesterday’s readership that’s there in the software.

You can’t compare 2014 and 2017. The methodologies are completely different. Though we are fully aware that some people will still compare, we will convince that it is not correct. All subscribers have to accept the code of conduct before they enter the software and it clearly mentions that comparison is prohibited.

What will you do if it is still compared?

Sinha: When you try to use the software, to access the data you have to sign a code of conduct. It clearly tells you to agree that no comparisons will be made, other than few other guidelines.

Is there a data point to club digital and hard copy consumption together?

Sathya: You can club it, but we are not giving the digital data by title level – not independent publishers. It is available only at the medium level.

The study says that on monthly level, a single yardstick can go on to all platforms for reach numbers. Do you think media like cinema and radio can be studied for a month-long duration?

Bhasin: So, earlier the questions in the questionnaire (for cinema) were like: have you seen a cinema in the last six months? (For radio) Have you heard radio in last three months? (For internet) Have you used the internet in the last one year? There were different parameters for different media, which were not comparable. You can’t ask different questions and then compare it.

This time we have asked same question for every media user: Have you used ‘x’ media in the last one month? That is the reach that is equally uniformly reported across all the media.

Sathya: One month level. It is apple-to-apple comparison.

What is the sense that you have gathered from the publishers? How open are they to accept this?

Bhasin: We haven’t interacted with most media after the release of the report. But going by the earlier interactions, they have not only been open to this, but also supportive of this. A lot of stuff that has happened has been done with the involvement of the publishers. They have been members of the techcomm board, RSCI board and MRUC board. We have gone by consensus as you can see that almost all the industry was here. Now there will always be winners/ losers and there will always be some outliers.Nobody can say that they weren’t involved in decision making.

Sinha: Acceptability can be gauged once the complete data is rolled out. Today, we have just given the toplines. Around Monday or Tuesday, we will get a clearer picture on this.

There has been a lot of changes, from methodology to technology. Have you made efforts to educate the industry?

Bhasin: A lot of effort has been made. The subscribers have already been spoken with. Training has been given on the software to people who are going to use it. This is different software and this will be on continuous basis. Nielsen and MRUC teams have gone to the offices and explained everything to those who will be using the software.

Sathya: The marketing committee is headed by GirishAgarwal from DainikBhaskar. He is driving that initiative. We are going to hold training programmes for all users. We may also conduct joint trainings. We don’t want people to exploit the data. Ultimately, if a junior planner doesn't understand what is a data versus some other data set, the purpose will then be defeated. We want to do online training, physical training and all of this. It will have training programmes at common venues. For large advertisers, we can hold separately. We are also giving trainings at the MRUC office.

Are there plans to do it on a larger scale? May be workshops?

Bhasin: This was only the launch. Now we are going to focus ourselves on the subscribers. If you subscribe, just see the amount of training you get. But very less of free data and free service will now happen, because I am involved. I will make sure that if you want it, you pay for it.

Digital has hurt print to a significant extent in the last four years. Had there been IRS available, could print have given a better fight?

Bhasin: I don't agree with you that digital has hurt print. Digital has massively grown, so has print. Also, a lot of newspaper readers are reading on digital – there is a lot of synergy between the two mediums. To answer the second question, it would definitely have been much better if there was research available.

How are advertisers reacting?

Bhasin: I met the advertising body. They were very supportive. We had to first release the report and really talk about it. For three-four years, you weren’t even there. In principle, they were supportive, but they were waiting for it to come out. Now, they will be very supportive. We have made sure that advertisers are a part of the techcomm, MRUC and RSCI board.

The training has been expanded to them only if they subscribe. I hope they subscribe and buy the data.

So if the agency buys it, will advertisers still have to buy it?

Bhasin: If agency buys, we will train them but it’s not good. You must buy it so that you ask the right questions to the agency. It's not only for print buying. You can use it for your product. It gives you a lot of understanding.

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