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ABC Digital is a big achievement despite pricing constraints: Shashi Sinha

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ABC Digital is a big achievement despite pricing constraints: Shashi Sinha

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), an independent body that provides audited newspaper and magazine circulation, formally announced its digital measurement service, which goes live from Q3 2016 earlier this month.

This is  slated to fill an important gap for digital property owners by offering them precise audience metrics. The solution being deployed by Nielsen measures audiences consistently across PC and mobile aims to provide the media industry with accurate foray into measurement of digital properties. This is the first such initiative to offer industry-accredited digital measurement.

Shashi Sinha,( CEO - IPG Mediabrands India) Chairman, ABC speaks about what it really took to foray into digital measurement, differentiators, tackling the bots issue and concerns regarding ‘variants’ in print publications...

Edited Excerpts:

ABC’s foray into digital measurement was announced in September last year, what was the process that followed to arrive at a robust solution?

Digital is a growing medium but generates very small revenue. We had to find a solution which is robust but at the same time not very expensive. One of the main reasons why we are taking so much time to launch ABC Digital is that we had to get a system which is very user friendly and pocket friendly, and I must admit Neilsen has been very supportive in making it pocket friendly. 

Finding a robust solution which ticked both these boxes is why we took so much time and we are happy to report that we have got the right solution.

ABC is a small industry body as compared to BARC or MRUC. Since it is an old, legacy body we hardly charge any money for certification. So for ABC to stick its neck out, it is definitely a big

achievement, to get it on the ground at the price, we have.

Since it was digital, we knew no-one would fund it, so we had a lot of pricing discussions and the pricing model turned out to be very expensive, and we knew if we make it expensive, it will collapse.

At the time of BARC, broadcasters were ready to fund it to a large extent. You must give credit to the big boys – Star (Uday Shankar), Zee (PunitGoenka), Viacom 18 (Sudhanshu Vats); they took the load of funding on themselves.

If history were to be written, if it weren’t for the funding from Star, Zee and Viacom, BARC wouldn’t have been started.

How do you deal with bots when it comes to digital measurement?

It is a big challenge globally, and is a big question, which has come up from all publishers as well. That is a huge exercise that we have carried out, we are also doing tests with Neilsen on that; and we have come up with an algorithm to block that. Since it is a global phenomenon, we have taken all the precautions necessary.

What is the value add or the differentiator of ABC’s digital measurement?

Basically we have got a solution in place, and we started testing it - Nielsen puts a tag on a site; the backend solution of which is with Nielsen - once the user downloads the page view, the tag is fired and we know the number of page views on every page. So, all you need to do is to put the tag on whatever needs to be measured, whether it is a page or a section.

Nielsen has a global tie-up with Facebook, and Facebook is one of the largest platforms.  Even assuming there are 10 per cent of fake accounts or people operating with fictitious names on Facebook, at least 90 per cent are genuine, and Facebook is so huge - it’s the biggest database.

One of the biggest advantages that Neilsen brings to the table is that not only is the tagging getting the page views, it is also getting the profiles which helps in better and focused targeting.

One of the reasons why we got delayed from September to now is that we were only looking at tagging; then a lot of people asked us how is it different from Comscore? Now we have taken things to another level with profiling.

We did the pilots with about 15-16 publications, which have been very successful, we are also doing some more fine tuning with the feedback we are getting from the pilots.

The big differentiator is that you can profile your audiences in terms of demographics and other parameters; this is one benefit that we are giving now with a robust data source such as Facebook.

Facebook is perceived as an English driven platform do regional/ language publications suffer in anyway?

We did pilots with a lot of language publications; infact we have been doing pilots for the last two-three months, and I have seen the results; we presented the results to the various techcoms, infact, there has been 60-70 per cent match. We have done several meetings, with the board, and with the larger techcom as well as also got publishers of 10-12 publications to come and see for themselves and the response has been very positive, when they saw the results.    

Any lessons you have learnt from BARC that you applied to your role at ABC?

BARC was a different challenge; here we are doing something new. BARC was launched at a time when there was an existing currency (TAM).

Here, there wasn’t any robust industry body. So my personal opinion is, it is best to carry people.

We are ready to launch since April-May, we have come from a situation where people were reluctant to take up trials, they are now coming upfront to say, ‘give us an opportunity’. This is the incubation. My personal wish is, although we have said that the launch will happen in Q3, if all goes well, we may launch earlier. It’s all about carrying the people; it’s about evangelising – people should feel comfortable with this rather than them saying that they have been forcefully pushed into it.

You had said in an earlier interview that getting ABC and IRS data side-by-side on the same platform, to enable a co-relation would be an ideal scenario, do you see that happening?

While ABC has its strengths and weaknesses, IRS has its own pros and cons. So, how do we marry the two? ABC is the head count of the circulation. IRS is all about readership and each of these have their own strengths. Today, I think it makes sense to have both of them on the same page so that there is a common currency which evolves, which a planner, an advertiser or a publisher can look at, it’s just the technicality of making it happen.

The fact is that if you put both the data points together, it will open your eyes up. The larger point which I am making is that realization in the industry that these bodies are working at the back of each other, will help everyone’s cause.

What are the challenges as ABC’s Chairperson?

Not really a challenge but something I am concerned about is ‘variants.’ In my personal opinion, if this is not handled well, the print industry can get divided.

(Variants: Selling the same newspaper at two different price points with different number of pages and ads as well)

The practice of variants started off in the old days when people said we have to inculcate the reading habit in students, so schools used to get school editions with less number of pages, cheaper papers, where ads were not carried. But today, these rules are being misused by people - not all but by some.

With the same mast-head, they (publishers) create two separate papers in the same city, one priced at Rs 3 and the other Rs 1.50; in one, one set of ads are carried and in the other, a different set of ads are carried. So there is a lot of confusion.

Now, they are within the rules, the rules allow it. So they publicise saying they are No 1, No 2 in one state etc. In July, when we meet, we will try and find a solution to this variant issue.

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