“It is a tough moment to be in,” was largely the comment made by the media fraternity on July 31, 2012, when NDTV sued Nielsen Company and various others over TAM Media Research. There were several aspects to the lawsuit that have raised alarm but top of the list was NDTV’s complaint that data from TAM Media Research was manipulated.
Many questioned why NDTV would complaint in a US court over TAM, when both companies do business in India. The first answer was TAM’s parentage of Nielsen and Kantar. The second popular reply was that NDTV was not only seeking speedy solution to the issue but it would have also gathered enough facts to back its case in a New York State court.
The suit was filed on July 26, 2012 and NDTV wants a minimum of USD 1.3 billion -- USD 580 million for negligence, a minimum of USD 810 million for fraud and millions more on a variety of other causes of action including legal fees.
The complaint has been made against various companies including WPP, Nielsen Company, VNU, ACNielsen Marketing Research India, Kantar Media Research, JWT India, IMRB International and TAM Media Research amongst others.
The move has left the industry waiting with bated breath on what would be the next course of action on the subject. The crux of the conversations on July 31 was that if Nielsen lost the case or if there was an out of court settlement, there would be chaos in the Indian media industry.
TAM Media Research has been the currency for the Indian broadcasting fraternity for over a decade now -- a currency that has been carefully guarded by stakeholders against any intrusion from government or any other body that is of the opinion that TAM fostered unhealthy content culture in the broadcast fraternity.
The reason: Today, TAM is the only measurement that enables an accepted, common ground to measure the performance of television, a medium that consumes a majority portion of advertising spends in India.
An industry divided
Given the nature of the case, not many industry officials were willing to give their views on record but a large portion of broadcasters expressed that TAM Media Research needed to do more for the industry and conversations of this nature were taking place with TAM for a while now. Broadcasters have made various requests of TAM in the last year, some of which were even seen regressive by their advertiser and media agency counterparts. One such was the request from News Broadcasters Association (NBA) that wanted TAM data to be released monthly instead of weekly – a request widely opposed by advertisers and agencies.
Channels such as erstwhile Imagine from Turner Broadcast Network in India had even questioned TAM’s data, pointing out city-wise anomalies that led to an “incorrect version of the larger picture”. A senior broadcaster stated, “Such allegations are not new to TAM and just about everyone would have tabled it with them at some point. The last mile intermediaries can be a problem, and one that TAM may not have much control over either.”
Another allegation facing TAM was that TV ratings data had become vendor-driven in India. More than what broadcasters wanted, it was what TAM was able to generate.
“The need of the hour for broadcasters in India and the world over is a robust, reliable research system and analytical tool. TAM needs to offer a system that will help decision-making by offering insights that are not only legitimate and pioneering but also add value to the business and in turn the end consumer,” said a Reliance Broadcast Network spokesperson, another company that has been vocal about TAM’s inability to measure data for certain kinds of audiences.
Some of these points also found place in the complaint that NDTV has filed against Nielsen over TAM. NDTV officials including the likes of Dr Prannoy Roy and Vikram Chandra had met many agencies in the last one year to point out the drawbacks and errors with TAM data.
Another industry senior however pointed out that the industry never built a blueprint for TAM to function on. “There may have been suggestions but TAM also needed investment and perhaps some structured way of saying that this is where the industry is headed and this is the role that TAM can play – both of which was missing,” added a media agency head.
While broadcasters may have seen this coming, agency officials see this as a severe setback to the industry.
Challenged currency, but where is BARC
Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar UM pointed out that if BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) was around, the situation may not have come to this. He said, “BARC has been discussed for over four years now but there is no progress. It has to get off the ground quickly – that is the only solution to address a problem of this nature.”
BARC is led by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) in its present avatar and has participation from the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and also the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI). BARC was accepted even by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting-led Dr Amit Mitra TRP Committee report. However, BARC flouted a few deadlines set for it to come in play and even now, there isn’t any substantial progress from the body.
Attacking TAM however does have consequences for the industry. Satyajit Sen, CEO, ZenithOptimedia said, “TAM is the currency of our profession and this is attacking the integrity of that currency. It is not the best place to be in.”
NDTV’s court case makes references to documented evidence that only points fingers towards TAM’s credibility at the TAM panel data collection level but also states that Nielsen and TAM officials have admitted to possibility of data corruption. This can be reason enough for the industry to question its trust on basing crores of rupees of decisions on TAM data alone.