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Guest Column: IRS 2013 is dead: Long live the IRS

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Guest Column: IRS 2013 is dead: Long live the IRS

The lifting of self-imposed embargo on use of IRS 2013 has been lifted. This was completely predictable and not surprising at all. The process and methodology audit been complete, post deliberation Chairman- MRUC, Chairman-ABC, Chairman-RSCI and Chairman INS have unanimously agreed to life the embargo. Why do I still feel that this is just CHECK NOT A CHECKMATE?  Surveys are surveys and they are directional and representative in nature. There is no survey or award, which is without controversies.

Part 1- Future

We need readership measurement. On this the industry is unanimous. It’s time somehow to ensure that the next survey is the least controversial in its process and results.  RSCI, MRUC and INS have to look at future rather than keep discussing the past.

Here sharing few thoughts on what could help the situation.

• CLEAN SLATE: Start afresh. Print industry has lived without measurement for some time.  It has adapted itself to the new reality. Another 6-9 months will have made no difference. A new regime, process and representation are needed to bring least debated results.

• PRINT PUBLISHERS REPRESENTATION: In the initial process print representation is essential and must be enhanced. Print must not remain a  mute spectator but an involved partner will hopefully decrease the probability of violent rejection. It is tough but doable.

• NO POST-OBJECTION CLAUSE: Publications, part of the next survey gives an undertaking of not be objecting to the results. If it requires that INS has a presence in MRUC. So be it. Another tough call. The same in current form ‘You as a buyer/subscriber of IRS data agree to be bound by the design, methodology and processes adopted by MRUC and that you will not call the same into question in any manner’ does not seem to be a deterrent.

• IN OR OUT:  The inclusion is completely voluntary. Once you are in, you abide by results. If you are out- you cannot use them even if they are favorable to you. Very tough call as what happens when the top 7 step out.

• ABSENCE OF SUPPORT MECHANISM: MRUC does not seem to have support of clients and agencies. If client and agencies were to only plan and buy print basis readership numbers- it will be then INS onus to ensure that MRUC results come out on time or they set UP A COMPLETELY NEW BODY. Currently print planning is back to dealer reference and inferred recommendation like ‘my chacha lives there and says most read XYZ.’

• GET RIGID: Learn from ABC. ABC figures have also been debated multiple times.  Yet, publications continue to ensure their certificates are updated. This strength is drawn from huge backing by DAVP, which still buys media based on circulation.  The day it stops doing so, publishers won’t bother with ABC.

• RE-EVALUATE IRS ROLE AND SCOPE: IRS in current avatar is much more than just a readership survey.  Publishers believe that such long surveys allow errors to creep in. Moreover most of IRS non-print readings are disadvantageous to the publishers who mostly fund the study. Publishers are not exactly in love with this idea. I am not sure how much TAM or RADIO LISTENERSHIP covers cross media data. Though I do not deny that cross media data is a necessity of current era.

• AGENCIES AND CLIENTS TO PAY: Agencies and clients who are the inferred beneficiary of survey data should somehow be roped in to be financially involved decreasing dependency. So, that they are as enthusiastic and focused to share the right output is there. Maybe any and every time an agency makes a run- there is an auto invoice raised by MRUC which is in turn paid by the client! I know this won’t happen but believe it would make a huge difference. 

• GET BACK TO HALF YEARLY RESULTS: The quarterly ripples in data had lulled publishers to sleep. The tectonic shift with new methodology and sample size changes was not easily digested.  Don’t think print needs quarterly results in print. Makes sense to get to half yearly results if it can ensure that a new launch gets true reflection in readership at the earliest.

• TIMELINES: IRS must be fixed date month schedule. Why can’t it be clearly fixed and not vacillate to adjust the pace of work at the research body or MRUC.

• EDUCATION AND INVOLVEMENT: Somewhere INS can be faulted of not seriously taking interest in understanding the new methodology, understand the possible swing and educating members. Though MRUC did such an exercise it was conveniently forgotten.

Part 2 – Past

It is important to look back and it will be clear why I say this was predictable and not surprising.

When the disputed results were announced, the objections were based on 3-4 observations:

1. Tectonic shift of leadership at few places. Publishers were expecting a change in quantum with the perspective remaining intact.
2. Absurd readership quoted for certain publication- geographical area combinations. And few of them were totally laughable examples.
3. Readership in few cases being less than the circulation.
4. It seemed to benefit just 2-3 publications.

Theoretically, all this is possible.

Knowing the ground realities at that time it is tough to say beyond doubt that results truly reflected it. Few top publications were forced to step out of line and take it up and then make the publisher’s body INS to question validity of it. When almost all top publications took his stance, it gives credence to the issue.

At that stage 3-4 things were happening:

• The business aspect of some publications was adversely affected. It threatened their business, internal moral & confidence and the status the publication or media group enjoyed.
• The credibility of the MRUC and in turn the Council and Governing body members was under attack.
• The credibility of research agency (hence in turn its business) was under threat.

Let’s believe a truce was called when MRUC agreed to cross check and validate its process and systems. Now this led to a very interesting situation and the real first checkmate. There were mainly 3 practical possibilities at that time.

• MRUC agrees that the results were wrong. It raises issue on all its past and present figures. Suicidal.
• MRUC accepts that the process is fine and implementation was the problem. No near future solution was possible
• MRUC would return with ALL IS WELL verdict. Most likely not acceptable to publisher and another legal opinion will be sought.

Though MRUC has validated and have given green signal. Hopefully this is an honorable escape formula being implemented. If not trust me, The WAR IS NOT OVER. What MRUC can say with confidence is that the technical process framework is absolutely fine. And I am sure no publishers have been objecting to it. But doubts will continue to be cast on implementation and ground level issues.   The security and secrecy breeches have been too many- to be just pushed under the carpet.

Time to look at the future. Get together. Don’t create more islands in this small pond. Thrash out the differences. AGREE AND MOVE AHEAD - easier said than done.

DISCLAIMER: Reference not being made to any particular publication house or agency or client or industry body other than stated above. I hope we get a robust working print media measurement for the benefit of the industry. There are around Rs 17-19,000 crore Riding on it.

Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst, P1P2Solutions.

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