Just a day before the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC) announced the findings of the National Readership Survey (NRS) 2001 in a grandiose fashion at the Taj President, Mumbai, the Media Research User's Council (MRUC) received a rather unpleasant letter from ORG-Marg. It was a communication by the country's largest market research agency to exit the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), the largest continuous media survey providing a single-source database for demographics, media habits and product/ brand usage across India. The intention had been conveyed verbally a month back; the letter arrived last Thursday (July 5).
The reasons for this decision were not available immediately. Ashok Das, president, ORG-Marg, refused to speak over phone. He did confirm that his company was "considering it (moving out) very, very seriously." "But we haven't finalised anything as yet," he said. Due to a busy schedule, Das was unable to spare time last week but promised to provide his side of the story this week. A senior member from the IRS camp said that ORG-Marg wished to move out due to cost issues. "The letter said that 'we are making heavy losses on this study and therefore, do not wish to continue with it'," he disclosed. "But that does not appear to be true," he shot back. It is learnt that both MRUC and NRSC pay research agencies to the tune of Rs 3-3.5 crore annually for the respective readership survey.
NRSC, which comprises the Advertising Agencies Association of India, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the Indian Newspaper Society, has commissioned TNS-MODE, IMRB and AC Nielsen to jointly put together the NRS. The IRS, which is conducted by ORG-Marg in consultations with the MRUC, was born in 1995 to address the numerous complaints received by NRS users. It began with the formation of the MRUC, a non-profit body of advertising, media and marketing professionals, in 1994. IRS gained quick popularity due to the growing dissonance among NRS users. Many changes were incorporated over time, like continuous reporting through the year, and the increase in rural representation. The IRS 2001, released last month, for instance, covered an annual sample size of 2.21 lakh, balanced equally over two rounds between January and December 2000. A total of 741 towns and 2,475 villages were surveyed.
No wonder, last year the IRS was bought by some 43 agencies against 24 that bought the NRS (and which may have bought the IRS too), according to an informed source. The amount of work and quantity of data culled annually implies a huge price tag and buying two studies therefore, is too dear a proposition. On top of that, agencies usually complain of magazines reporting readerships as high as 60 per copy, among other anomalies. Last Friday, therefore, the NRSC took a major step toward increasing acceptance by announcing free distribution of the NRS 2001 basic data to AAAI-accredited agencies, along with free access to all past data. Of course, it was also backed by the researchers' efforts - the largest-ever sample size of 212,000 adult (15 years plus) respondents across 828 towns and 2,071 villages, and data on 484 mass media titles and 129 product categories.
NRSC's keenness to make NRS the industry standard is seen by some IRS insiders as the reason for ORG-Marg's decision. "There have been talks of the NRSC poaching ORG-Marg," said a senior source. Another reason that observers see is to do with the parentage of ORG-Marg and Nielsen. Late last year, VNU, the Dutch parent of ORG-Marg, bought AC Nielsen of the US. Since then, media observers have been looking out for hints of consolidatory developments in India on all fronts where ORG-Marg and Nielsen compete. The prime among them are press and television readership surveys (IRS/NRS, and INTAM/TAM respectively) and retail market audits.
While ORG-Marg's version of the story is expected soon, it is learnt that the MRUC has already started negotiations with other research agencies. The names being mentioned are Francis Kanoi and Millward Brown. "I don't see the IRS suffering because the MRUC technical committee is very sound," opines our source. "But the bigger question is, why can't we use the total investment of Rs 7 crore to conduct a single, more credible survey?"
The answer to that has been pending for a long time. In the short-term, however, it seems inevitable that findings of the second phase of IRS 2001 will be delayed beyond December. And it may not be conducted by ORG-Marg after all.
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