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Does the industry need an alternate currency to the IRS?

Does the industry need an alternate currency to the IRS?

Author | Abid Hasan | Thursday, Feb 06,2014 9:06 AM

Does the industry need an alternate currency to the IRS?

The print media has been up in arms ever since the latest Indian Readership Survey 2013 numbers were released by the Media Research User Council (MRUC) last week. Flaying the methodology of the survey and the several anomalies in the findings, the print players have even asked MRUC to withdraw the findings and threatened to withdraw from the survey.

Given the gravity of the situation, 18 leading print publishers came together to strongly condemn the IRS 2013. In a joint statement issued, the publishers stated, “The survey is riddled with shocking anomalies, which defy logic and common sense. They also grossly contradict audited circulation figures (ABC) of long standing.”

Owing to the severity of the matter and the damage that ensued, a highly confidential meeting of Indian Newspaper Society issued advisory on February 4, 2013 and requested their members to withdraw their IRS subscription.

A huge chunk of the publishers have unsubscribed from IRS and now plan to take legal action against MRUC, besides seeking refund of their money.

In such a scenario, the question arises – does the industry need an alternate currency to the IRS? When exchange4media we spoke to a cross-section of print players to understand their points of view, all of them stated that they are not questioning the IRS, but the problem is with the work procedure. They would rather have no currency than have an incorrect currency.

Anant Nath, Director, Delhi Press, believes that the industry cannot survive without a currency in the long run. The problem with most of the publishers is they are not happy with MRUC’s methodology, transparency, and the authenticity of data collection.

He also suggested the publishers lack clarity on the questionnaire process with the respondents. “I suggest MRUC takes higher tests and talk to publishers about the core issues and come up with a better survey which has transparency.”

When asked about switching the currency, he said, “No currency is better than having incorrect currency. It will not matter if we change the name to national readership survey or something else, the process will not change. The current agency needs to improve their work for better results.”

On condition of anonymity, a senior level executive of one of the leading dailies said, “It is not the IRS that is being questioned today, but the latest report is.  For some time now it has been evident that the methodologies needed a complete overhaul. Therefore, all constituents that make up the MRUC agreed upon a course of action that over the past five years saw the creation of RSCI and the release of a completely refurbished IRS Report last week.”

The member also highlighted the drawback of latest survey and said, “The report has a lot of us bewildered. It is easy to brush away the negative reaction of publishers as a case of sour grapes. But the issues that we have raised go to the very heart of this survey.”

The nature of these anomalies is not simple statistical nuances as MRUC may have us believe. They seem to raise issues pertaining to a faulty methodology, wrong sampling decisions or in many cases, quite possibly a mix of input errors and genuine software glitches.

And the elephant in the room is quite possibly fieldwork tampering. Malpractices at the field are not a new subject. It has crept up often in the past and there exists enough evidential proof of it.

So, whether the IRS remains the currency or we require another currency is a question that needs serious consideration depending on how sincere MRUC & RSCI approach the current stalemate.

Suresh Srinivasan, Vice President, The Hindu said, “What is required is a credible research on print media consumption that reflects the ground realities. The findings must be a true barometer of publications’ connects with the local populace so as to bring all stakeholders, publishers/media agencies, readers and advertisers on the same page. Findings that embrace these will no doubt become the most preferred yardstick- IRS or any other.”

He also pointed out, “IRS 2013 unfortunately has not achieved this objective and merits scrutiny with all aspects of the research methodology viz., sampling, data gathering/ research administration, data validation/ analysis/ testing/ contamination, conducting re-interviews wherever necessary, etc. Obviously something is amiss in IRS 2013 that has in its wake brought forth the large scale rejection, not from a select few, but a very large share of the publications- across the country and across English and regional dailies.”

It can’t be ignored that so many print players can’t go wrong with all the numbers. Even the number one player Dainik Jagran is upset with the IRS figures. In its Kanpur edition dated January 30, 2014, the paper had published, “Once again No. 1, but Jagran disapproves survey”. The daily added, “AC Nielsen had promised the survey would be based on computerised and scientific methods, but questions have been raised on that very promise and hence, Dainik Jagran has objections to the methodology and its results.”

Arun Natesh, Marketing Head, Business Standard, said, “The answer will not be an alternate to IRS but strengthening it. Looking for an alternate will be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The solution will be to take a hard look at the research design and tweak it so that adequate sample pick-ups happen in all the key markets along with building a robust back check mechanism and follow through on the process.”

He added, “The criticism from various media houses could have been avoided if an independent audit of the data, (especially since we have a new process and a new agency in place and the data is coming out after a long gap), was done before its release. We have seen bizarre instances of only women readers for business dailies in several markets, zero readerships for several of our edition cities, students reporting monthly individual incomes in excess of Rs. 25,000 (almost 8 lakh individuals in the age group 12-19 years) and several more.”

As per the latest information, magazine body Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) also urged MRUC to immediately withdraw the IRS 2013 findings as it believes that such faulty reporting of readership numbers can have ‘extremely damaging impact on business’, apart from misleading media planners and advertisers.


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