No IRS for 2 years: Are publishers missing the survey?

While publishers are divided over the absence of the Indian Readership Survey, MRUC says it has no plans to launch the survey as of now

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Published: Aug 11, 2022 8:11 AM  | 4 min read

It has been two years now that the Indian print media industry continues to work without any measurement and ranking. The last Indian Readership Survey was conducted in 2019. 

The IRS was suspended in 2020 by the Media Research Users Council India (MRUC India) due to pandemic-led restrictions.

We spoke to several publishers to get a sense of what the absence of IRS meant to them.

Shreyams Kumar, Managing Director of Mathrubhumi Group, said, “The impact of not having the IRS for the last 3 years has resulted in marketers having to make blind choices. While one can argue that print is not as dynamic as TV or other channels of communication, Covid has definitely changed the print consumption landscape too.”

“An independent study by a leading consulting firm had celebrated Kerala for its ability to get the readership numbers to where it was quickly after the first wave where distribution was badly impacted. I also believe the national CPT yardsticks will change and markets like Kerala, which have been able to hold forth in terms of audience retention, can get their due share if there’s a new survey.  This is a long gap by any imagination.”

It is to be noted that ratings for TV news channels were also paused for two years, but BARC resumed the ratings early this year. 

As for Sanjay Samson, VP - National Marketing of Prabhat Khabar Group, “We are eagerly awaiting the IRS as it is the sole and strong currency for all parties, media houses, advertising agencies and clients. Everyone needs an updated and current realistic IRS data to navigate the validation and consumption of readership for planning leading to the valuation of ad rates.” 

While regional media players look forward to the IRS, leading English publishers remained tight-lipped.

“The absence of readership data didn’t have any significant impact on ad bills of our newspapers,” a top executive from an English media group said. 

Critical to advertisers, the readership data is the currency on the basis of which they decide which print publications they want to advertise.

Determinant of market position?

Mohit Jain, Executive Director at BCCL, who is also the President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) told e4m, “The IRS is just one of the determinants to measure the reach of any newspaper, it is not the only determining factor.”

“A lot of time has passed since the last survey. People wonder if it will bring out a real picture and their relative market position in the current situation,” he further said.

“Even if the survey is conducted now, it will be a half-hearted effort. Most offices are still not open fully; employees are coming twice or thrice a week. Meanwhile, Covid cases are rising again in many states. Sending a team for the survey would cause a backlash,” Jain explained. 

When asked about the resumption of BARC ratings for TV channels, Jain said, “TV ratings measurements are conducted electronically while newspaper surveys require physical interviews of readers, which is making this exercise a bit difficult.”

The IRS, jointly published by the MRUC and Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI), is the world’s largest continuous study with an annual sample size exceeding 2.56 lakh respondents. 

The survey gives a snapshot of India’s Print and other media consumption, demographics, product ownership and usage. The IRS also covers over 100 product categories in the households surveyed.  

The exercise requires nearly Rs 40-50 crore that comes from the contribution of publishers. They would want their money to be put to good use,” Jain noted. 

 Shashi Sinha, Chairman of MRUC and BARC, confirmed to e4m,
“There is no plan to start the survey as of now.”

Newspaper ads are back: TAM data

The latest TAM figures suggest the print media has almost recovered from the pandemic’s shock, and advertisements are gradually reaching the pre-Covid level. More than 1.4 lakh advertisers flocked to various newspapers in 2021, compared to 1.7 lakh+ advertisers in 2019, shows statistics obtained by e4m from TAM. 

Jain echoes the sentiments, “Publishers are able to get enough advertisements based on their market reputation and reach. Moreover, advertisers go by their own intuition about the newspaper’s reach while spending money in print media.”

Disputes continue

Controversies around the methodology and the alleged lack of transparency of IRS pointed out by stakeholders in the past, continue to haunt the survey, industry leaders admit. 

Jain too affirms that the accuracy of the survey is questionable as of now. “They are trying to improve methodology and technical discussions are on to make the product more robust.”

“Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) is a better method of gauging readership patterns in the publishing industry,” a senior executive at a Hindi daily said. 

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