Two names that come to mind whenever the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Indian Readership Survey (IRS) are mentioned are media veterans Roda Mehta and Amit Ray. Ray, as ex-Chairman and member of the MRUC technical committee, spent 14 years building up the IRS from scratch in association with Hansa Research Group. Today, though he is not officially associated with the organisation, he still considers it his baby and speaks passionately about his time at MRUC, the extensive learnings and the effort spent in fine-tuning IRS.
What according to you are the main reasons for the current controversy over IRS data? Are publishers justified in their reaction to the changes incorporated by MRUC?
I am not at all surprised by the result. However, I am stunned that well experienced publishers unconditionally awarded the study to an agency that had earlier failed them. For me, it was a ‘no go’ from the word go. There are a few more human and technical errors that I would like to point out:
1. Lack of humility: The collective experience of the current MRUC technical committee and the appointed research agency is very poor. They completely ignored former members of the technical committee. In fact, when HRG was sacked in spite of some exemplary work over time (1997 - 2012), it offered to hold the current agency's hand until the data from new research stabilized, but the current committee rejected it outright.
Along the same lines, the MRUC and RSCI completely ignored the problem that MRUC faced when the research agency was changed in 1999/2000. It took almost three years for the data to come to the fore. Who has given the current MRUC the right to play with publisher's financial future?
2. Wrong approach: The current office-bearers of MRUC think that MRUC is a principal and the research agency is a vendor. It might sound shocking to readers that in 14 years of my career, I have always found that it is the research agency HRG who drove and shaped IRS much more than what MRUC could do.
Major publishing houses have unsubscribed from the IRS. Does the industry face a data dark period in Print, and can it survive without measurement?
It is detrimental for publishing as an industry. It will impact them in two ways:
1. Some of them won't get included in client campaigns because there is no third party endorsement of a publisher's achievements
2. If we become data dark, it will help the client/ agency to push down prices further, which is not a good thing for publishers.
I am sure the publishing community realises this and that's why it came together to build a single currency and will not shy away from building one without the present MRUC.
As the industry faces a measurement crisis - over TAM in Television and IRS in Print - how does the advertiser decide where to put his money?
God help BARC if they believe they can use IRS as their baseline study. Anyway, nothing is clear about BARC’s plan. At the Mumbai road show, BARC officials were either unwilling or not forthcoming about many of the issues raised. Now the industry will appoint a few unbiased experts to ensure that there are no more shocks in any measurement study in India. Not having data will be a completely retro step... like going back to the Stone Age.
If you were to suggest a solution to the current imbroglio, what would it be?
For one, INS should outright reject IRS - which it has already done. But as print players’ total rejection of the IRS could have serious economic implications in the long run (more so in the area of price negotiation), the urgent need of the hour is to rectify the errors. As HRG has over 14 years of research experience, it should be brought back on board as the research agency. I also strongly advocate that the body of publishers should reject MRUC and form their own equivalent of MRUC, completely governed by publishers and helmed by experts and researchers present in publishing companies. Experts formerly associated with the process can also be drawn in for their expertise and publishers should then decide on the sample size in consultation with this body and the research agency, in a transparent manner. The stakeholders can distribute costs among themselves.
Alternatively, create a really strong and robust circulation audit system.