The allegation by aMap that WPP agencies were not using its rating system has brought the rating issue back to the fore
TV audience measurement in India has had a chequered history. First, there was the migration from diaries to electronic people meters, then the rivalry between TAM & INTAM among other things. In 2004, aMap was launched to challenge the stranglehold of TAM, and another debate arose on daily ratings versus weekly ratings. Now aMap claims that it reaches 6,000 homes versus TAM’s 5,000. So, every few months there is a ruckus, then the dust settles. The vital issues, however, continue to be swept under the carpet.
The TV advertising industry has grown to about Rs 6,500 crore per annum — a burn rate of about Rs 18 crore a day. A lot of this money is going up in smoke, thanks to the fact that the current measurement system does not address three major issues. One, the TV viewing audience has swelled with non-metro urban areas and rural areas registering huge growth. Metros too have seen multiple TV ownership within up-market urban households going up. This has led to the most common complaint by media agencies and channel owners about inadequate geographic representation.
Two, more channels, especially those with niche content, have been launched. Viewership studies have often been accused of not having adequate representation of audiences watching niche channels. The demand for an enhanced panel for measuring viewership of niche channels and audiences has been accepted as a valid one. However, three years have gone by and there has been no concrete action. The sheer volume of an increasingly heterogeneous audience demands better representation across demographic profiles. For instance, two channels of the same genre could have a completely different audience profile. The bottomline: much more is required from viewership data if it is to aid decisions on changes in content or help fine tune advertiser targeting of TV audiences.
The third issue is the change in access modes. From TV antennas to the cablewallah to conditional access systems (CAS), measurement systems need to build in the ability to cope with change. Till date, we have not seen any data for direct-to-home (DTH) households, where the current universe has crossed a million homes. If inadequate sample size was an issue in a CAS-less scenario, it is likely to get worse when the dust over DTH, CAS and free-access settles down.
Most of these issues are basic and have been brought up in the past. However, even after five years of debate, little has been done to address them. Is this because we were operating in a monopolistic market (one service provider and no competition)? Hardware costs have come down but are not reflected in the cost or expansion of the service. Investments have been amortised, margins have improved, but the service continues to limp year after year. All that changes is the degree of dissatisfaction among users.
The past two years have seen the launch of a competitive service. Broadcasters, agencies and advertisers agree that TAM has not delivered the best solutions. Yet, despite there being a competitive offering, there are few takers. The media business is getting what it deserves, an inadequate measurement system which mirrors the chalta hai (blasé) attitude of the key stakeholders. With the latest noise, there are reports of a joint industry body (JIB) meeting on the issue. If that is correct, then, things are finally moving. Whether or not they reach a logical conclusion, only time will tell.