The Unanswered Questions about TV Ratings
Dr Annurag Batra, Founder, exchange4media Group and Editor-in-Chief of BW Businessworld, asks pertinent questions on why the ratings issue continues to rage on
It's been 10 weeks since the ratings have resumed for individual news channels. Ratings and measurement are supposed to bring order and give a currency for performance and measurement for all stakeholders. However, instead, the ratings have turned out to be baffling and bemusing. The ratings in the current form leave a lot many questions unanswered rather than answering and regaining credibility. The current regime seems to be taking off the sheen of ratings and raises a lot of questions about the mechanism.
The first question is whether the landing pages viewership be counted as legitimate viewership and should this data be factored in while calculating ratings? In the past, a certain broadcaster did it and the then CEO of a ratings mechanism allowed the same and the technical board of the ratings mechanism continued to allow landing page data to be featured as ratings, and allowed it as an input into ratings. I, personally, would strongly urge the stakeholders to reconsider allowing landing pages determined inputs as 'no viewership' or its weightage be minimised. The advertiser is paying for engaged and real viewers, not accident-bait viewers who are forced to leave impressions on a certain page.
The legitimisation of landing page data is a very disturbing trend.
The second issue that worries me is the fact that news channel owners who rightly stayed away and criticised such practices of landing pages or other not so best practices have started embracing these practices to stay ahead. Certain news organisations have even embraced professionals who have been mired in controversy and who they were earlier targeting for malpractices. This is very disturbing. We have to have faith and conviction in one's own content and the process rather than hiring the same professionals that were once publicly accused of malpractices. This is double-speak and espouses the low morality of some news media owners and their own eagerness to do well in the short term. Ideally, such professionals should have been singled out and sidelined in a formal way. We need to clean up the system.
The third issue is with data collection. A lot of employees of a certain data-gathering agency, which was accused of malpractices or at least the lack of any checks and tampering, have joined a new agency that is supposed to protect and gather data. This is too ironic. This shows the lack of oversight and it seems it is so easy to violate data.
I learned two things early in life and I genuinely believe in them. First of all, performance matters but it's the effort and overall impact that matters whether you are a high school grad, and it's not only about your marks it's also about overall development and not just academic achievement. However, academic achievement matters in some admissions as you pursue higher studies. Also, divine blessings help. If you have blessings everything works out.
The last 10 weeks have seen TV ratings being resumed and a relatively new channel has achieved good ratings reportedly due to its war coverage. Another channel, which was launched a couple of years back, has also done well. Incidentally, these two channels were the ones that were very bullish about ratings and they both have done well.
I keep saying and have heard from a close friend's father in the past. “Coincidences are also not so coincidental”, for those who understand Urdu “Ittefaq bhi itne ittefaq nahi hote”. These two channels also started to do well in viewership two days after it was announced that the ratings are resuming in the first week of February.
Let’s also observe the movement of AMAs, Reach & TSPV in the newsletter released augmented data. On 7th February, the announcement was made and the youngest news channel that has got good ratings starts to do well immediately post that in week 7 itself. The Time Spent data of this channel that has suddenly gained massive viewership is hugely abnormal as compared to other very established reputed channels. Of course, there is a logical reason that its war coverage was carpet coverage and that did it. In terms of reach trend, the other Hindi news channel that has done well now becomes number 1 in the latest Week 12, while the other one that was ranked 7 in the data is now shown at rank 3. Let’s deep dive now into heavy viewers. The Hindi channel that has become number one has its 2-hour plus viewers increasing week after week with GRP contribution from 2-plus hours viewers going up from 11 per cent in week 1 to 21 per cent in week 11. Way to go.
Now, let’s review the TAM NCT data and check content differentiation in Hindi news genre in week 9 and week 12, 2022. Extraordinary gains happen for this new number 1 in UP and Uttarakhand market. These were two states going to elections. Have the viewers become more interested in the Ukraine war than their local elections? You have to ask this question in two states where elections have very high involvement in the UP and the UK market. Also, this new number 1 gets unexpected time spend rise vs all other channels besides across all 3 weeks in rolled data, counting weeks included. Let's look at AMAs trend in Punjab and Chandigarh Market. This time there are even steeper gains for this new leading channel in Punjab and Chandigarh market at a time when a new political party is winning with huge margins in Punjab. Let’s also look at TSPV trends. This new leading channel is showing unexpected time spent levels in Punjab and Chandigarh Market besides in Punjab when new political history is being created by AAP getting a full majority and government formation is happening but viewers are getting glued to war coverage on a particular channel.
Now let’s look at reach in million at HSM in Week 11 vs Week 40, which is 4 weeks rolling. There is an increase in reach of 40 million in a single week which seems impossible to me who is both an avid news watcher as well as someone who has been watching media for 21 years plus.
Now let's take another genre - Bangla news. Here it is important to note that this new Hindi leader chooses to selectively opt out of the Bangla genre. Again such coincidences cannot be co-incidental. On 7th February, the announcement was made for data release and the other gainer channel in Hindi sees a steep rise in its Bangla channel. When it launched it did not do well in the Bangla genre.
Now let’s look at TSPV trends in the WB Rural market. One can clearly see that as soon as the data gets released by the ratings body in week 10 (on 4 weeks rolling average), this Bangla channel gains extraordinarily in terms of time spent in WB1 rural markets. Now let's look at reach trends. This new Bangla genre gainer channel is now also ahead in reach in WB rural markets. This is a market that for a certain Hindi channel is a home ground and their reach has been built over years with massive investments and very deep editorial inroads.
In WB, with less than 75 lakh urban markets, this new gainer Bangla genre channel also leads in TSPV and big gains came after first rolled out data in week 10 of 2022. The reach trends in West Bengal see this new leader is about to go ahead of the incumbent leader. Quite a dash.
Now let's look at another regional news genre - Kannada and Telugu news genre.
This new Hindi leader, which is also in Kannada, stays stable even during war weeks in AMA trends. Plus, in this market, this channel has been around longer than its Hindi new avatar. With the same war content, there is no rise in TSPV for this Kannada variant of the leading gainer Hindi channel in Karnataka, the levels are constant. Now let's also look at the reach trend in Kannada News, this Kannada variant sees a slight fall in its Kannada channel in the post-war week.
Now let’s look at the Telugu news genre. With the same war content, the Telugu franchise hasn’t gained in the AP market. It is also notable that with the same war content, the Telugu time spent starts falling in AP market post the same war coverage or similar war coverage. Also, in terms of reach, both the Kannada franchise and the Telugu franchise go hand in hand.
I am just sharing data and trends from the last ten weeks of ratings. I can continue to give you many more instances and data points but I hope you are with me on what I am trying to fundamentally ask. There is a lot to be answered.
There is a lot to ponder about. The answers are not coming by.
Most of the channels have been doing well and are seeing either their English or Hindi platforms doing well, except two channels, and we know which are these and let me take names - ABP News and AajTak.
AajTak and ABP news are the only two channels who have seen a consistent decline. We have to ask the question why? It's a legitimate question. The incentive for everyone not to question the mechanism or not to walk out is that there are some weeks they do well, so they have less disincentive to walk out of the ratings mechanism or question the malpractices.
There is a huge variance in rolled vs unrolled data in the ratings’ mechanism in terms of cumulative reach in every parameter. How does one explain that?
I don’t have all the answers but something doesn’t add up here.
I would also like to reiterate that the two channels that have gained were the ones very aggressively pushing for ratings to come back. How come they were so sure that they would grow in ratings? One of the CEOs of the new Hindi channel has been telling their own team and other external stakeholders the precise weeks when they would be what in viewership. Clearly, the CEO is a clairvoyant and a futurist or possibly has a very good astrologer.
The questions to be asked are how come two channels which did traditionally well and were number 1 and number three have fallen to number 2 and number 7. Incidentally, these two channels are seen to be more objective in their coverage. They are the ones who are not doing well. Could this be a game to discredit these two channels and prop up two new channels as leaders? I am just asking a question that comes to mind.
The ratings mechanism in the past has seen manipulation of data manually and there is a worry that this time too there is a similar chance. We need to ensure that the data is not tampered again. The worrying questions need to be answered honestly and in a granular way.
The advertisers and marketers and media planners and media buyers in my view should take the new ratings with a pinch rather than a fistful of salt and also ask more questions of the ratings mechanism's board. The new Chairman of the ratings body is a man who is the most seasoned and very respected and someone who can reach out to all stakeholders. He has an envious job, and I am sure he will do the right thing as his intent is right. In the past, the CEOs of this ratings mechanism have been either clueless or in one particular case have been accused of actually manipulating.
Walking out of ratings en masse by news channels is an option. However, that may not be an answer to this ratings maze.
Is shutting down this faulty mechanism the right way? Would it be a case of throwing the baby with the bathwater? Is allowing two or three more players to do ratings the right way? Is there a way of correlating the data with surrogates the right way? I do not have all the answers. However, the current mechanism of ratings is muddying the waters and bringing disrepute to itself and all the stakeholders must get together to get meritocracy. The right practices should be resumed rather than continuing the current way of doing ratings.
Someone needs to ask the right questions after all coincidences are not so co-incidental.
The divine hand in ratings is leading to ratings losing its sheen. It's time to bring the credibility and sheen back.
Dr Annurag Batra has been writing on media for two-plus decades and is the Founder of exchange4media and the Editor-in-Chief of BW Businessworld.
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