Why TV channels will face audience measurement crisis soon

The Union Cabinet yesterday approved the proposal of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) for bringing out a comprehensive regulatory framework in the form of guidelines for Television Rating Agencies in India.

The guidelines are such that the Indian television industry will see, if the guidelines are strictly followed, a period during which there will be no measurement of television audiences in India. Fundamentally, there are two implications as a result of a period of non-measurement.

Advertisers will not know how TV programs have performed, so they will be buying 'blind'.

 Why TV channels will face audience measurement crisis soon


Broadcasters will have no means to justify premiums on programs that they expect will do well as they will have no methodology to prove this post facto.

The current television audience measurement in India is conducted by WPP owned TAM India. The guidelines issued yesterday willy-nilly disqualify TAM India from conducting television audience measurement business in India.

"No single company / legal entity either directly or through its associates or interconnect undertakings shall have substantial equity holding that is, 10 percent or more of paid up equity in both rating agencies and broadcasters/advertisers/advertising agencies," say the guidelines. Since TAM India is clearly a WPP-owned companyand WPP, to put it mildly has substantial interests in advertising agencies, TAM India is out.

Into the breach should come the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), so all should be well, one would have thought. At least the MIB must have thought so, because the guidelines say that "30 days time would be given to the existing rating agency to comply with the guidelines." Salient features of the guidelines are at the end of this piece.

Since TAM India cannot comply with the guidelines in 30 days (29 now!), what happens on the day after? BARC, despite all efforts, has not signed on research or hardware partners as of today (though one understands that these are imminent). Even if all agreements between BARC and their vendors is finalized immediately, it will be at least 6 months for BARC data to be available.

So we now face an entire summer without measurement. If there is a delay beyond 6 months and it stretches to 9, we could also see the high-expenditure festival season without measurement (Dussera is on October 13).

The MIB needs to immediately roll-back their ill thought-through deadline for compliance by TAM India and correct it to at least 6 months from the announcement, simultaneously putting pressure on BARC to get their act together by then.

Tragically, this is a situation that many had anticipated. "India is frighteningly becoming a vastly under-measured country as far as two of the most used media, TV and print, are concerned. It has been almost a year since the Indian Readership Survey has been published by the Media Research Users Council (the last data available is for 2012 Q4), forcing media agencies and marketers to buy space virtually blind. Hopefully, the new, improved IRS, which, on paper promises to be significantly more robust than the old, discontinued one, will be available in 2014 Q2.

It is less than three months since the relationship broadcasters and TAM India, the company that measures television audiences in India, collapsed to an extent that the major broadcasters decided to withdraw subscription, leading to a situation where no measurement would have been available for TV viewership. Peace was brokered, but it was a fragile peace, leading to the decision by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to find an alternative, universally acceptable measurement system.

As this is being written, there is no clarity on when the new system will be rolled out, let alone when usable and actionable data will be available. The result of these two fiascos is that we might be in for a spell of zero measurement, and that is, quite simply, advantage advertiser. The fallout? Lower yields in TV and print for all but the top performers, " we had written a week ago.

The MIB must, immediately, undo the damage that this deadline is certain to do.

I&B Press Release

Updated Date: Dec 21, 2014 01:39:08 IST