PMAR 2021: Not in favour of third-party measurement: Uday Shankar
Shankar was speaking to Vikram Sakhuja on the occasion of the unveiling of Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2021
Former Star-Disney India chief and FICCI president Uday Shankar was at his best while fielding questions from Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO Madison Media & OOH at Madison World, on Wednesday. The occasion was the unveiling of Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2021 and Shankar was in a fireside chat with Sakhuja.
Shankar spoke on a wide range of issues, from advertising to creativity to the role that media & entertainment (M&E) industry can play in the larger scheme of things.
The media veteran said that the M&E sector has punched below its weight as far as the larger role in making the economic contribution to the country is concerned. He feels that M&E can play a big role in building Brand India. "If you look at Brand US, just imagine the role that Hollywood has played. It is tough to decide what went first – the American way of life or the Hollywood way of life and content. It is anybody’s guess that if there was no Hollywood, we would not have internalised as much of America and accepted it as much as we have today."
Speaking about the low advertising to GDP ratio, he said that the country is still in the early days of building advertising as an intrinsic part of a business enterprise. "Advertising is still considered a big company’s game. As you go down the business strata, it is still not seen as an essential tool for business."
According to him, building a brand is a strategic lever for creating value and getting market share. He also feels that media professionals across the buy and sell side have not done a great job of evangelising the role of advertising in brand building.
"If you look at the number of brands advertising in India, that number is really small. It has grown dramatically because of digital penetration, but if you look at traditional media, that number is really small for a country of the size and diversity of India. Selling and buying inventory is not the best way to participate in economic value creation. Media can play a much bigger role," he averred.
On the challenges being faced by different mediums due to the pandemic, Shankar noted that the print industry did itself a great disservice by killing the subscription revenue stream in favour of advertising. TV, he said, has done a commendable job of creating a national market for content and more than that for advertising.
Shankar also flagged the issue of lack of creativity in creating content. "There is a serious content problem in media in general. We are not building brands. There is not enough distinction between channel A and channel B barring sports where properties are exclusively available. The world of content has moved from being just a creative business to a world of creativity and technology."
On the pricing of media products, he said that media companies have to play the volume as well as the value game. He also noted that value-consciousness doesn’t mean that consumers are reluctant to pay, it is just that they want value for money. "We are in mass media and both the words are equally important. You need to have a proposition that allows you to be attractive to the largest section of people. However, everything doesn’t need to be sold to everyone. Some people play volume game and some people play the value game."
Speaking about audience measurement, he said that a sample-based measurement was always a sub-optimal solution. "Today, it is possible to measure the whole universe accurately and not just a sample, why would you not do that? If you are not doing that you are leaving yourself exposed to all kinds of distortions."
He also noted that the Broadcasters Audience Research Council (BARC) has been a huge letdown. "I played a key role in bringing down TAM and setting up BARC. I think BARC has been a huge letdown. But I don't think it was a letdown because broadcasters, agencies, and advertisers were stakeholders in this. It was a letdown because we did not have a vision that was in tune with the possibilities of the 21st century."
In the backdrop of the controversy surrounding BARC, Shankar advised broadcasters to move out of the measurement system. "The controversy that just involvement in BARC has created for broadcasters, they should just get out of that. It's not worth it. It is not worth it for all the suggestions of impropriety that broadcasters have faced. By and large, broadcasters are clean business people and they have done a good job of serving their customers," he further stated.
When Sakhuja asked Shankar whether broadcasters should be kept out of the measurement system, he said that the assumption that broadcasters will corrupt a measurement and agencies and advertisers will not is without basis.
Shankar also said that he is not in favour of a third-party measurement. "I am not in favour of this third-party measurement structure because look at the kind of distortion and anomalies we have created in this country. It is almost alarming if not dangerous if you see what is happening in the name of data."
He also said that the BARC initiative to measure TV+OTT video content got derailed as major streaming players like Netflix and Amazon didn't want to participate in it.
On his future plans, Shankar, who recently joined hands with James Murdoch to explore tech & media opportunities in emerging markets, said that he is excited about the potential of technology.
"All the mass consumption services and products were not designed to meet the aspirations of 135 crore people. Why did private media come up? It is not because somebody invited or it was part of government policy. Private media came up because there was an unmet need which the official providers were not able to meet," he noted.
Likewise, services in areas like education and health were not built to meet the aspirations of modern India. "There is a widening gap between aspirations and the possibility of supply with the best of intent. The one thing we have with us is technology. Not everybody needs to go to a school to learn and not everybody needs to go to a hospital. Covid has taught us that you can be at home and get a lot of things done, including getting yourself treated," Shankar stated.
For the rest of his life, Shankar wants to harness the power of technology to meet the needs of the people who are being underserved. "I come from Bihar and I know what the aspirations of underserved populations are and what the challenges are."
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