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Battleground Chennai: ABC gives 2.95 lakh chit to Deccan Chronicle; ‘ABC has lost its credibility’, fumes The Hindu

Battleground Chennai: ABC gives 2.95 lakh chit to Deccan Chronicle; ‘ABC has lost its credibility’, fumes The Hindu

Author | Gokul Krishnamurthy | Friday, Aug 25,2006 8:01 AM

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Battleground Chennai: ABC gives 2.95 lakh chit to Deccan Chronicle; ‘ABC has lost its credibility’, fumes The Hindu

The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) has issued a certificate to Deccan Chronicle’s Chennai edition, putting the circulation for the Jan-June 2006 period at 295,326 copies. The paper informed the Bombay Stock Exchange of the certification on Wednesday.

Buoyed by the first certification for its Chennai edition, Deccan Chronicle (DC) has made plans to launch its Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Bangalore editions this fiscal. Earlier, it had planned to launch its Tiruchi edition in November 2005. As reported by exchange4media, the daily had also expressed its intent to enter Bangalore, and was open to make its foray through the acquisition route.

The ABC certification for Deccan Chronicle has left Chennai’s numero uno English daily, The Hindu, fuming. Pointing out that the reasons that resulted in the certification being withheld from DC for the July-December 2005 period – trade terms being higher than 40 per cent – held true up to mid-April 2006, N Murali, Managing Director, The Hindu, fumed that the “ABC has lost its credibility”.

The cover price of DC was hiked to Rs 1.50 only in April 2006. It had launched in March 2005 at a price of Re 1. With the hike in cover price, the trade commission came within the limits permitted by ABC, contended Murali.

P K Iyer, Executive Director, Deccan Chronicle Holdings, said, “In this country, newspapers are sold at a third of the price of coffee. At Rs 1.50, the circulation of the paper should have dropped. The question is not about prices and commissions. The question is: Is it a good paper that can find the market? This kind of circulation in such a short span of time shows that the Deccan Chronicle has found the market in Chennai.”

On the subject of revenue targets, Iyer added, “If there is circulation, there will be advertising. The Times of India has been in Hyderabad for seven years and has only a circulation of 70,000 copies. That’s because they pushed advertising before pushing circulation. With this circulation, we are confident of achieving any number.”

Murali quotes IRS figures released in March that put DC Chennai’s readership at 136,000 copies (approx.). He explained, “The NRS figures are also due now. Let us see what the figures say. Given the IRS figure for Deccan Chronicle, the ABC figure presents an incongruous situation. What is the RPC for any English daily? The trade term norms have clearly been violated up to April 13, and there is no justification in ABC certifying them for a full half-year period. This is blatant injustice and a big dent on the credibility of ABC. One loses faith in the process. I can say very objectively that according to our estimates and that of others in the market, their circulation is not very much beyond one lakh copies.”

“There is not much of a difference between what the Deccan Chronicle had claimed as their circulation last time – which was not certified because of non-conformity to the ABC norms on trade commission – and what has been issued now. The growth claimed is not much. But as a longstanding member of ABC and as a past president, one loses faith and doubts ABC’s corporate governance and credibility. ABC cannot get away with issuing a certificate like this,” Murali added.

The Hindu’s certification for the January-June 2006 period is yet to come in; and Murali refused to share details on the claimed number – in keeping with ABC norms. In the July-December 2005 period, The Hindu’s circulation in Chennai was in excess of 360,000 copies (ABC).

Ravi Reddy, MD, Deccan Chronicle Holdings, contended that the IRS figures released in March had been collated through fieldwork from the early days of the paper’s Chennai foray. “The survey done for IRS was during a period when we were new in the market. We were growing at the time of the field studies, and so the figures may not be a perfect reflection of our readership numbers. NRS that is due, again, would have anomalies because the long field work period means that the data is from a stage when we were just growing.”

The IRS report puts the period of field work as ‘January to December 2005’, informed a South-based media planner, who added: “The planning in any case isn’t really done on the basis of the circulation numbers. If the Deccan Chronicle is the leader in the market, or is very close to the leader, then we should see a perceptibly different set of advertisers featured there. What we see is more of clubbed ads with the Hyderabad edition.”

Reiterating the anomaly between circulation and readership, Murali said, “It is the same organisation that issues the ABC and the NRS figures. And there is not much of a difference between the NRS and the IRS figures. If there is a huge difference between the ABC and the NRS findings, then it has to be explained. They can’t say this is right, and this is also right, when both the findings are poles apart.”

Will NRS 2006 hold the answer to this puzzle? Only time will tell. The Hindu is yet to decide on its future course of action, and is awaiting its own readership and circulation certifications. The case in the Mumbai High Court on Deccan Chronicle Chennai’s July-December 2005 figures is due to be heard again (see story below).

However, despite all this, the ABC certification is a shot in the arm for Deccan Chronicle. The paper has provided enough reason for players in the Bangalore market to wake up. For very soon, their readers in that city could have the option of waking up to Deccan Chronicle with their morning cup of tea.

Also see:

ABC to decide on Deccan Chronicle’s Chennai certificate; HC refuses ad-interim relief to The Hindu

Deccan Chronicle eyes Bangalore market, to launch Tiruchi edition in November

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