The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) found a way of keeping many busy and engaged with the institution of a Committee, chaired by FICCI’s Dr Amit Mitra, to take a closer look at television ratings, which in the last two-three years became a subject controversial enough to attract the government’s attention. One section of the industry still wonders why – as in the government truly has much else to worry about. The MIB itself has many other issues that can keep it occupied, and where its intervention will actually help – there are still pending matters on what content should be allowed in key primetime and what is fair for the 11.00 pm to 5.00 am slot, what is allowed on general channels and what on youth or other specific-TG channels or is that distinction made at all? The health of the industry itself is a question mark and yet the guidelines for launching channels have not learnt from the old mistakes.
But television measurement had to be the subject that the government argued to be of direct interest to it, and was something that had to be worked on. Fair, and that brings us to what we at exchange4media call, the MIB’s TRP Committee Report. The Report, as many industry observers have said, is exhaustive and has paid attention to many points that custodians of Indian mass content industry (due to the impact that a mass medium like television puts on all kinds of audiences) and media guardians worry about.
That is a definite positive side of this Report. But if this was a committee that had to look at television measurement and the role it plays in its entirety, then I wonder why one of the core reasons of ratings’ existence, of the role that it plays in advertising, has got missed in the recommendations.
For starters, anyone who has worked on data from TAM Media Research even just once knows that measurement is not just about television rating point (TRP). From a broadcaster, consumer and even the advertiser viewpoint, television measurement is capable of offering a lot more, and in the course guiding all stakeholders in many areas. A “TRP report” loses the plot in the title itself.
There is no denying that from a broadcaster viewpoint, many recommendations are constructive and progressive. The sample size, the need to low cost People-meters can go a long way in helping this industry. The frequency of announcing ratings release and controlling the start-to-end of television research process are factors that would work well for broadcasters. The last point perhaps makes sense even for advertisers – they should know where the numbers on which they are spending Rs 9,000 crore to media companies are coming from.
But when you look at the recommendations more closely, one cannot help but question whether the Committee tried and thought from the advertiser and agency standpoint as well? If we looked at the recommendation to decrease frequency, for instance, from a media planner’s viewpoint, does it make sense to advocate fortnightly data release? Any media planner would tell you, No. Agencies and advertisers slot ad spots and create plans at times even on a minute-to-minute detailing. They would like to make changes as soon as they can if something is not as per their plans. One would think that was important too.
All Committee recommendations convert research process into some kind of a panchayat system that has a board and a high power committee and representation from various factions – and all that is fair. Where there are provisions suggested to help the research process by recommending increase in sample size, there are also constraints on the research process by laying down a system that disables industry constituents from participation or pre-formatting stages of research and putting rules in that. I wonder which other research in India sees this kind of intervention from bodies that are not even necessarily going to use the data directly.
Broadcasters would be happy with the recommendations, and personally I think it is great that their interests have been addressed to a large extent. It is after all the broadcasters who have been sustaining television research in India. If the agencies and advertisers needed it equally, the contribution in terms of investments or growth plans should have been in the same proportion from agencies and advertisers too. If it is, in fact, the broadcasters that are funding this process, then it may as well happen in the way they want it.
The angst between broadcasters and advertising agencies is obvious. AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India) has been quoted that they would pay for the research if they are an active constituent of the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), which they are not. They fell off that map a while back. The ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers) have not given a comment on the recommendations yet. BARC itself gave an interesting comment that they would develop rate card, which would be different for different constituents. The MIB’s TRP Committee report may have been released and is in place, but there is still a lot more that we would be hearing on this subject in time to come, and that would better answer whether there would be any change in the ratings scenario in India at all in the next five to 10 years.