Even as he waits for BARC to come into play, the MCCS chief, Ashok Venkatramani sets his sights on the potential of the robust Punjab market, while treading cautiously on ABP's plans for the south. Excerpts from a conversation.
The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) is unlikely to meet the October deadline and is expected to start from December or March. What is your take?
When they communicate, we will know; in the absence of that we all are going by whatever we are reading from the press. There is no formal or informal communication from BARC, so we absolutely don’t have any idea about BARC.
With broadcasters paying Rs 100 crore more for technology adaption, how is it going to enhance the performance of BARC?
Measurement will get enhanced, firstly, by the sheer number of boxes that get placed. They are planning to seed 20,000 first and the rest afterwards. I think that straightaway triples the measurement points and hence reduces the error.
Secondly, I think seeding the boxes is going to be lot wider. Both from the width and depth point of view, I think the instrument would probably be more efficient than the current one.
Are you happy with the way TAM is performing?
When you have only one instrument and you don’t have a choice, there is no question of being happy or unhappy about it. There is only one measurement; everybody is using it so we are using it too.
Is the current system adequate? No. Are we looking forward to a better instrument? Yes, we are.
What if BARC and TAM both come into play?
I don’t think both the currencies [will] coexist for long. Sooner or later I think the entire industry will probably shift to one currency that is solid and robust.
What potential do you see in the Punjab market in terms of advertising?
I think it is a great market, a robust economy. There are a lot of SMEs that have gone up to build solid, strong businesses. It's a very brand-conscious market. I think overall the potential is quite good. Historically we have seen for advertisers Punjab has been a difficult market to crack in terms of reach. There aren’t too many news players, so we see an option from both the viewership and business points of view.
Digitisation is set to cover the state by the end of this year. Do you think it's the right time for ABP to go on air?
The timing is right. We haven’t received the fruits of digitisation yet. We had some early signs of benefit flowing in the first phase, when we saw the arrest of the growth of carriage fees. Phase II has been completed. We haven’t seen carriage fees coming down. It's bothering us a lot. And now we see that again there is a pressure on the carriage fee being pushed up. This is, in my view, an unhealthy situation. MSOs [multiple system operators] are feeling the heat; money is not collected from the ground much. ARPUs [average revenue per user] are not coming up. I think the real benefit for broadcasters is a good, transparent DAS [digital addressable system].
Minute to minute reporting is now widely followed on digital. How is that impacting the traditional broadcast media?
No, I think television still has a sizeable market while digital media is growing in terms of viewership. In business terms it is still too small. I don’t think it's a major threat to television. I think the new medium is putting pressure on television in terms of content. You need to break stories on multiple platforms.
Are you expanding in the south?
Too early to say. Our traditional approach is not to proliferate channels but to launch a channel, consolidate it, make it positive and make it profitable and then move to the next one. We would be probably taking ABP Sanjha to a certain level of viewership and business before we embark on our next one.
Is MCCS is looking to sell some percentage of stakes?
No, these are highly speculative stories. At a point of time our business was partially owned by Star. When they exited, there was some rumour. These are completely speculative stories.