The industry needs to ensure that the IRS comes out quarterly: Ashish Bhasin

Bhasin, CEO, Greater South and Chairman & CEO - India, Dentsu Aegis Network & Chairman, MRUC, speaks about the IRS 2019, its challenges and the outlook going forward

by Srabana Lahiri
Published - Apr 29, 2019 9:30 AM Updated: Apr 29, 2019 9:30 AM
AshishBhasinIRS

Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Greater South and Chairman & CEO - India, Dentsu Aegis Network & Chairman, MRUC, speaks about the IRS 2019, its challenges and the outlook going forward.

Coming to the timing of this study, why was the field work done only from November 2018? Between January 2018, when you released IRS 2017 data, to November, why did things not move?

The research started towards the end of October-early November. It takes a couple of months of planning before you get into the field because earlier, we were doing it on an annual basis and not on a quarterly basis. So, if the report has to be released in the first quarter of 2019, then that was roughly the time-frame. It got a bit delayed because of certain extraneous factors, such as the Kerala floods. We could have started a little earlier. We should have, but for various operational reasons and also we needed to get everybody aligned. We wanted to make changes, to digitize the whole process versus what it was earlier. So, that took time, which is why it started in November.

How reliable is the readership data for planners just now, taking the annual moving average for Q2+Q3+Q4 2017 and Q1 2019 numbers?

That is completely statistically sounded off… and happens anywhere that you take a rolling average… because you are moving from an annual study to a quarterly study, there’s a gap. Hopefully, now, that issue will not be there because every quarter, one quarter will get added up and one quarter at the back will get dropped. Once it falls in that pattern, it should be streamlined. This is a readership survey, unlike a survey of television viewership or Internet users, etc., numbers. It doesn’t vary significantly day-to-day, minute-to-minute. For example, if you are a newspaper reader and read a particular newspaper, it’s unlikely that your habits are going to change every day or every week or every month on that. There is much more stability in habits of readership than there is in viewership or listenership. That’s why Tech Com worked hard on finding out what’s the best way of doing it because you are transitioning from an annual to a quarterly reporting system.

Did you receive enough funding from the industry for IRS 2017? How is the funding scenario looking right now?

MRUC is a not-for-profit body, which also means that if it doesn’t have funding, it can’t do anything. So, while we would have liked to receive more funds, we did receive just enough to go on. It was a big task because the study was coming out after about four years. I think I can take the credit or discredit for this - as chairman of MRUC, I insisted that we will not start the study unless every stakeholder commits the money. We started the study only after the money came in. So, there was no problem in terms of funding because money was in the bank before we began the field work.

What was the reason behind the delay?

Maybe marginally, but not significantly. It was more or less according to plan. When you have a large body with different stakeholders and a hundred things to do, you have to manage all the constituencies, and that takes time. But that wasn’t the key reason.

What are the challenges you faced this time in terms of adaptability of the software, gathering data points, industry feedback et al?

One feedback that came in from the last report was that we need to do something about niche publications - English publications in areas which are not their strong points. So, for example, let’s say a publication may be a Madras-based English newspaper but it will also be selling some copies in Delhi. The Chennai part will be picked up well because it has big enough sample of readers, etc., but because it has a small bit in Delhi, as an example, it may not be picked up well enough, or may not be represented. We did not report data if it was below a certain threshold. So, it would technically show zero, or not usable. The Tech Com, Nielsen and MRUC teams found a solution to that. We invested a lot in it too as now the entire process is digitized using CAPI, using C-forms that are digitized, etc.

You had established a code of conduct last time. Did the industry follow the code of conduct? And what actions were taken in case of non-compliance?

I would say it was very good compliance, though not perfect compliance. In instances where people were not compliant, we set up a disciplinary committee, which called them, explained the status to them. In 95% of the cases, they understood and withdrew their deviant communication, as most of these cases were about how they communicate the research. I am very pleased with the publisher community! However, in instances where the disciplinary committee had to issue censure notes to somebody, we did. Technology is also a big enabler. If you do not agree to the code of conduct and do not click on that, your software won’t open.

What are the challenges you see going ahead, and what does the IRS need from the industry right now?

The industry needs to make sure that the IRS comes out quarterly. It’s a huge study – one of the world’s largest - but the strength of the study will lie in the consistency of data publication. There is no point in having a great study which comes out once in four years. It would be of little use. Our aim is to release data every quarter, and it is a challenge to make that happen because of the sheer size, the cost involved, the number of players involved, the number of stake-holders that you have to carry through, but almost everybody seems fully aligned and we are moving well in that direction. I think it’s the first time perhaps after many years that 20 days of fieldwork for the next quarter of IRS is already done. Continuity now seems to be coming in as a process.

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