In seeking an answer to this oft-asked question, we must remember that the fundamental goal of a readership survey is to provide all stakeholders - marketers, agencies and media owners - a common reference in understanding consumer behaviour, both at a point in time as well as change over time.
Sure, readership studies are used for buying - selling discussions, but if we subjugate the knowledge enabling goal to the trading and transaction goal, we become vulnerable to our individual interests rather than serve the greater good of the industry.
This is important because acceptability of any syndicated study is the most important contributor to it being the 'currency'. If we have two studies, but one is used disproportionately more than the other, we only have one currency. We can never lose sight of this.
So what makes a study gain high acceptance and usage? I think three things - simplicity, credibility and consistency. If a research does not score well on each of these three dimensions, sooner or later it will fall to disuse, regardless of boardroom decisions taken for the industry to accept one versus the other.
So between one versus two studies, what does our cultural context make us lean towards? When I look objectively, I see that ours is a society that favours debate over consensus, balance between contrasting points of view rather than unified belief in one.
Can a single currency system survive for long here? I don't think so. In Singapore, yes. But in India? Not likely.
Look at what has happened to TV ratings. We moved from two parallel systems to one nearly a decade ago. While TAM has served the needs of the whole industry for all these years, we have been hearing the murmurs about a second system for a while now. We know it costs a lot to support two parallel systems, but it often looks like some people wouldn't mind risking it. Perhaps what is at play here is our culture driven need for an opposing point of view. A consensus may be comforting and practical to some, but highly unnerving to others.
We are discussing merging the two readership studies now and the debate is alive. It appears to be the practical thing to do, given that one of the two, the Indian Readership Survey, scores on all the three dimensions I mentioned above and already enjoys strong user acceptance.
Despite my natural tendency to recommend continuation of two studies, today I side with the one-study camp. I simultaneously recommend a strong industry oversight of that one study, under users and not just financiers.
I, therefore, urge us all to rise above our legacy leanings and focus on strengthening the IRS even further, under whatever name it may suit us.
(The author is CEO, South Asia, and Emerging Market Leader, Specialist Solutions, Starcom MediaVest Group)