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Lynn de Souza

Chairman & CEO | 30 Sep 2011

The IRS is a good product, but it is stuck in a time warp. It has to change and improve. It has to be more forward looking. Where just about everything around us is changing, the only two major changes that I have seen in the IRS in the recent years are that it has gone quarterly and the introduction of CAPI... All said and done, I do believe it is important to show the publishing industry of India in good light, though all may not agree with me. It is not a dying industry, and projecting it as such, is not good for India, for our economy, for those who want to invest here or make careers in it. It is a very large professional, diversifying and growing industry, which has some of the most talented people in the business.

The Readership Survey Council of India (RSCI), which some pronounce as ‘risky’, is no longer a term known only to few in the industry. RSCI brings with it the promise to reform the print readership measurement space, and in the process grow the Indian print industry. RSCI’s very birth signalled the industry’s intent to unify for the cause of measurement and two bodies MRUC and NRSC, fronted by ABC, joined hands to merge forces and bring about one robust measurement for the industry. As its first Chairperson, Lynn de Souza, Chairman & CEO, Lintas Media Group, has an intense responsibility at hand – to launch IRS in its new avatar. which will be a gold standard in readership measurement.

In an exclusive interview with Noor Fathima Warsia, Lynn de Souza takes the conversation back to why the RSCI was needed, and what can be expected from this body in days ahead.

Q. RSCI is finally in place. Even before we begin with what some of the plans are, would you like to tell us more on why you think this is a milestone for the Indian print industry?

I firmly believe that the Indian readership story is alive and vibrant. India is one of the few markets in the world where readership is still growing. In most developed markets, readership of newspapers and magazines is on the decline, with digital titles taking over. But here in India, as long as literacy is rapidly on the rise and still has a long way to go, there still is immense untapped potential. I believe that there are many kinds of reading occasions and locations that the measurment system is not even capturing today, let alone measuring them.

Print media is a very large and important industry in India right now. True, there is enormous fascination with television and digital, and print is perceived an old, has-been medium, but it still commands 45 per cent of our overall ad spends -- it is a Rs 20,000-crore ad industry. We need to be able to paint a true picture of what is happening in this industry.

Publishers are trying so many different things today. I met someone from an Oriya publication a few days ago and they were telling me they had started an eight-page English supplement for the younger family members. The current IRS would not even capture this. We don’t really have a handle on how readership habits are changing, or what kids are reading.

There are multiple papers coming into homes, there is a second generation that is reading another language in many homes, there is more readership while commuting and on the go – the readership space is undergoing a transformation and most of this is inadequately picked up right now. We need to do justice to publishers and the print industry, not because we want to make them look good, far from it, but to genuinely support and understand the changes taking place that affect all stakeholders. We need to help publishers to use research to their advantage, to understand the interplay between their brands and the other brands that their readers interact with in other media, or use or buy. The same goes for the media buyers and the advertisers.

It is not about just being a currency. Over the years, the IRS has been demoted to mostly being a currency that is used for buying and selling, and that is fine. But it also needs to be a true indicator of all that is changing in the world of reading.

Q. And the IRS has not measured up on being able to manage any of this?

The IRS is a good product, but it is stuck in a time warp. It has to change and improve. It has to be more forward looking. Where just about everything around us is changing, the only two major changes that I have seen in the IRS in the recent years are that it has gone quarterly and the introduction of CAPI.

Q. CAPI, we believe, is MRUC using technology for more accurate capturing of data...

There was a worry that publishers had expressed that the fieldwork could be open to corrupt practices at the lowest level - this definitely needed addressing. Though MRUC does stringent back checks and validation, it isn’t enough. The best way to address this is through technology – rather like what the government hopes to achieve in all the e-governance intiatives and UID. CAPI is already used in the metros, this is being extended nationally. It requires invesment in hardware and software, but the time and location stamping of the devices is a good solution, and we are also looking at biometrics to be extra careful.

CAPI will reduce non-sampling errors. However, addressing the change reading occasions and changes in reading behaviour requires a lot more than just changes in sample sizes and data capture techniques, and I am looking forward to the RSCI committing itself to delving into these larger and more future ready issues. The RSCI must be willing to innovate on not just the measurement, but also the capture of readership. Today’s methodology is mostly geared to capturing the age old, ‘people wake up and read newspaper over morning coffee’ kind of mindset. We still show mastheads and depend on recall. Today, newspapers are selling their mastheads to advertisers, changing the names of the paper itself for a quick buck – how does the reader get affected? Measurement should at least paint a true and fair picture of readership in this country, especially since India is on the move, Indians travel, Indians step out of their homes earlier and return later – all these affect when and where they read.

Q. The RSCI also brings together two bodies that have not seen eye-to-eye for a long time and often disagree on most conversations. Do you foresee a situation where as Chairperson, at times you would have to be an arbitrator of sorts to keep everyone on the same page?

When the RSCI meets, I am hopeful that people will leave behind whether they have come in from, ABC or MRUC, and just be there as RSCI – a body that works to push the readership agenda in the country. Also, most people sitting there are from the both sides, which means the same side! Ashish Bagga is an ABC nominee, but an MRUC member. We don’t expect any ‘loyalty’ issues. At the time, when we decided on the intent to come together and created a joint task force of four very senior people to negotiate the terms, someone in the meeting asked me where my loyalties were. I have been on both committees. And I replied, my loyalty in this context is to readership and not to any one association or the other. I think everyone understood that. RSCI’s loyalty would be to readership. At end of the day, everyone is from the same industry and even if anyone comes in with an agenda, you have to still hope that everyone has a common interest to be fair to readership.

Q. What is the groundwork that is going to happen to ensure IRS is a true gold standard?

All of us have been looking at this for a while. I would look for some gold standards from across the world. Perhaps we would appoint a taskforce to look at some of the changes happening in readership measurement -- we don’t have to ape the West. We can develop and design things for ourselves – the important thing is to consult with and carry our research partners on what it we decide to, and carry the industry along. The technical committee would have a very important role to play. One of the first action points would be to appoint technical committee that comprises the right people. The technical committee may be, or may not be, led by a policy maker or a member of these 20, but it would certainly have people with a lot of intellect and foresight, who understand research and its nuances and requisites.

Q. Can one assume Hansa Research would continue to be your research partner?

Hansa is on a contract, which is subject to renewal. You cannot assume they won’t be or that they would be our research partners. They would be given the same chance as anyone else who may be interested. It is up to the RSCI managing committee to decide. There are more players in the domain now. More importantly, we are looking for innovations. I am personally hoping to work with people who are open to new ways of working and approaching readership. The technical committee and the research partner would need to be a very strong combination of domain knowledge, intellectual honesty, and lateral thinking. All said and done, I do believe it is important to show the publishing industry of India in good light, though all may not agree with me. It is not a dying industry, and projecting it as such, is not good for India, for our economy, for those who want to invest here or make careers in it. It is a very large professional, diversifying and growing industry, which has some of the most talented people in the business.

Q. So the new IRS begins from scratch or builds on what we have?

Right now it is all open -- I am open to everything, as are people in the committee. Nobody is stuck on the status quo, though that said, if the status quo is working, then you keep it – why fix something that ain’t broke? IRS is not broke, but as I said earlier, currently it is not doing full justice to publishing in India.

Q. Any ideas already on how you would address readership measurement of periodicals, given that magazine readership has been discussed as a problem at the end of every IRS.

We are looking at how to address magazines. You are right, when you say it keeps coming up and magazines have expressed that they don’t think they are addressed properly when you look at the current way of measuring readership. Magazines are an engagement product and not a read and recall product. So they are clearly not happy. But that brings us back to the fact that the current readership measurement is not doing justice to the overall readership story in India, and that includes magazines.

Q. There are many print titles. How do you propose to be able to measure most? IRS in its current state is perhaps covering top 100-150...

I am sure there is a way to cover a lot more titles, may be through sub sampling, etc. I hope we have a chance to explore all possibilities and not rule out anything.

Q. What is the deadline for IRS in its new avatar?

I have no idea! First, we need to table some of these points to the committee and see their reaction and response. Since many of us have already been in discussion, I am hopeful that the committee will support innovation. There is a very strong lobby in our country for value erosion and lower media rates, but there are also those who want to create value and I believe all those in the committee are in the latter group.

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