Print players await refreshed IRS survey; insist on error-free data

With the latest round of IRS data expected in the last week of December 2013, the mood among print players is apprehension mixed with anticipation as the survey takes to technology in a big way

e4m by Abid Hasan
Updated: Dec 11, 2013 9:09 AM
Print players await refreshed IRS survey; insist on error-free data

“It’s an imperfect research, but it’s the only one that we’ve got”, say the print players of this country about the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), borrowing a quote from the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Iron Man’.

As is known, Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI) had awarded the contract for the new avatar of IRS to The Nielsen Company last year. The new readership survey is all set to be released in the last week of December 2013, and is eagerly awaited by the print players.

With the new survey, technology gets priority over physical research. The pilot study commenced in March 2013, while the IRS field work commenced in May 2013.

exchange4media spoke to a cross-section of print players pan India to gauge their expectations from the new IRS and found that what they are primarily looking for are robust data, better sample size, geographic reporting and software development.

Sharing his views on IRS, Rahul Kansal, Executive President, Brand Function, BCCL said, “We are trying hard to address some of the concerns of the earlier IRS. The earlier survey being based on old technology didn’t have enough checks and balances, hence, it was possible for the field workers and interviewers and so on to fill up questionnaires sitting at their homes.”

Kansal stressed on technology controlling the current method, tagging the location and interviewee as well as audio recording of the entire process.

Errors in non-sampling of data have been a contentious issue since the inception of the readership survey. The Nielsen Company has assured the print industry that it will iron out the errors in non-sampling of data.

Prosenjit Datta, Editor, BusinessWorld expects the forthcoming round of IRS to be more rigorous. He said, “The weakest part of the research is its frontline, which actually takes down the data and all. I would also like the conceptualisation and result of the research to be more anonymous.”

Sharing an example, Datta said, “While we were doing an analysis last time, we saw readership of an English magazine shoot up by 40 per cent in a couple of rural districts of Orissa, whereas we were very much sure that there are not too many readers in those districts. Thus, somebody needs to double check the data properly. I would expect some of these issues to be sorted out in the current round of the survey.”

A new monitor-based Computer Aided Personal Interview (CAPI) technology has been introduced this time under which as sections are completed, movement to the next section is automatically programmed into the process. This technology promises more accuracy in the survey, however, it is difficult to fill up the rough patch that was created earlier.

Varghese Chandy, Senior General Manager - Marketing Operations, Malayala Manorama felt that there is a huge volatility in the readership data between the quarterly rounds of the last readership survey. He said, “I hope this will be arrested and this will reflect the actual market situation.”

According to Arun Natesh, Marketing Head, Business Standard, “In India, readership surveys are complex per se, and any effort that will act as an improvement over the previous system will be definitely welcomed by the industry.”

Supporting the use of technology extensively, he said that while this will make the process more expensive, it will hopefully be able to remove discrepancies. “There has also been some serious thought that has gone into the amount of time that a respondent will spend answering questions without losing interest. The question that remains, though, is whether it will be completely fool proof. Only time will tell,” Natesh added.

“We would like to see the IRS adding more geographic reporting units/ towns in the below 5 lakh and 1 lakh segments. That is where the real story of India’s continuing growth in print is taking root. Focus needs to be on the emergence of the Tier II, III and IV consumption economies,” said Peter Suresh, Head-Business Intelligence Unit, Dainik Bhaskar.

Losing credibility
The main reason for discontent among publishers has the credibility of research. It will be a tough task for the new agency as negative perception has impacted the industry for a very long period of time.

Chandy remarked, “A single credible readership survey itself will help to create the right perception as there will be no comparison with any other data. Non-sampling errors will be reduced to the least due to the use of CAPI device. Data entry time will also be reduced because data is captured on computer. Better checks and controls will reduce the errors to the minimum.”

On the other hand, Natesh felt that niche/ specialty publications have always had it tough when clubbed with an omnibus survey. According to him, this has resulted in a lot of chatter about the robustness of the exercise and questions have been raised about whether it is truly representative. “The issue of pickup remains. It will take some time before the verdict is out on whether perceptions will change. But everyone hopes that it does,” he added.

Though the wait for the results is almost over, tampering of data is something that gives nightmares to the publishers. Peter Suresh, Head - Business Intelligence Unit, Dianik Bhaskar said, “We expect the MRUC and RSCI to take this moment to constitute a fool-proof mechanism to enforce strict codes and legal provisions to penalise erring stakeholders who tamper with the research process. We expect the research agency to possess the power and authority to take severe action against erring stakeholders – be it their own staff or external parties. The credibility of the IRS should always be paramount.”

The new survey is considering a sample size of 235,000, covering 32 states and Union Territories across 95 cities and 92 districts. It will also consider the Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi zones. Nielsen has appointed 700 people to conduct the survey in the first year and will add to the numbers as per demand.

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