TAM: Everyone's favourite punching bag

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | February 10, 2011
TAM has been knocked about by its users with regularity, wherein most of the attacks were aimed at the 'small sample size' used; however there have been other points, too.

Someone like Sourav Ganguly would probably understand TAM Media Research's predicament well. The former Indian cricket captain attracted emotions that ranged from love to suspicion - at various times - from the establishment to the fans.

Cut to TAM. This venture between AC Nielsen and Kantar Media Research/IMRB has been knocked about by its users (ad and media agencies and media owners) with regularity. While most of the attacks were aimed at the 'small sample size' used, there have been other points, too. Ironically, TAM was formed at the insistence of media owners (the top TV channels), advertisers (Indian Society of Advertisers) and agencies (Advertising Agencies Association of India).

As though that was not trouble enough, the organisation also attracted the ire of the government, as Parliament discussions on TVRs became the issue for the day on more than one occasion. Last month, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting-founded TRP Committee, headed by Amit Mitra, secretary general, FICCI, recommended a roadmap to review the TV measurement system (see box). Why is TAM everybody's favourite punching bag despite being the measuring standard in the television business?

Rope them in

Many industry observers state that TAM was initially designed for a far more homogenous marketplace, at a time when television was mostly entertainment-driven. "It is not sensitive enough to meaningfully track sharply-defined audiences or niche and special-interest channels. Most channels and television programmes have ratings of less than 1 per cent. How much can you analyse those?" asks Chintamani Rao, president, Media Direction.

Take the English news genre. It, Rao goes on to explain, has a share of 0.3-0.5 per cent of total television viewership. When you see an ad from a channel claiming supremacy because it has a share of 27 per cent to another's 24 per cent, the difference is 3 per cent of 0.5 per cent - that's 0.015 per cent of TV viewership. "For any, but the most rudimentary analysis, the sample size is too small," he says.

Measurement techniques like TAM's work well in countries like the US, but this is different territory. "India has 16 languages and over 550 channels. The benchmark needs to be reset," says Sunil Lulla, managing director and CEO, Times Television Network. TAM defends itself by stating that to upscale, it requires funding and a clear blueprint. According to L V Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research, the minimum sample size and coverage that a measurement system should have is based on the industry users' needs. "But, the role of monetary resources to manage a healthy system should not be forgotten," he says. Broadcasters believe that proper research needs to be done before deciding on the exact number of peoplemeters instead of talking through the hat.

Pay up, or else...

TAM came into being 12 years ago when the Joint Industry Body or JIB (made up of the IBF and the ISA) - now called BARC - put forth the idea of an industry service that would serve as a reliable monitoring service. The Amit Mitra Committee has suggested that BARC should have 12 members - seven broadcasters (including Doordarshan), three advertisers and two ad agencies (including DAVP). In 1998, TAM started out with 1,800 meters across nine cities. Today, the count stands at 8,000 peoplemeters representing 35,000 television-viewing respondents across 165 cities and towns that have a population of one lakh or more. In Maharashtra, it also covers towns that have a population of less than a lakh. TAM claims that it has started working on increasing the sample size of peoplemeters - covering rural India and towns in urban India with a population of less than one lakh. Casting the net wider is welcome, but who will fund the expense? "Are broadcasters ready to put in 1 per cent of the `10,000-`12,000 crore TV industry revenue?" asks Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar UM India.

According to estimates, TAM's turnover is over `50 crore and its only source of revenue is the subscription it gets. Many feel that the industry can surely spend more than the current 0.4-0.5 per cent of its ad revenues on research.

Each peoplemeter costs `1.5 lakh. To add, say, 10,000 meters, the one-time investment will be `150 crore. But, it's not about the money involved. Some believe it is to do with fear of losing. Says Amit Ray, president and COO, Lintas Media Group, "Channels which are showing good growth might be scared that if the number of peoplemeters is increased they may lose the race."

Others believe that increasing peoplemeters is not the only solution. "We don't need a thicker lens, we need a microscope," points out Rao. A top STAR News official has an interesting take. "The objective is to make the data more robust. Peoplemeter is just one way. But, there could be others too, such as tying up with DTH players (with government permission)," says the official. Tracking it directly on DTH would be even more accurate.

One-man show

Too much money is riding on the ever-sensational TRPs provided by TAM to determine the ad revenue of any particular channel (subscription is too little a part of the total revenue generated). The industry is apprehensive about the research findings provided by TAM," complains Ashutosh, COO, BIG Broadcasting.

TAM, according to various broadcasters, keeps asking the market to pay more and more, based on the monopoly transfer price it pays to its parent company for the required hardware. Asks Krishnan, "How can an industry service created by the users, for the users and of the users, qualify for a discussion on monopoly?" Sinha of Lodestar opines, "TAM is being used as the final verdict to decide ad rates. That is not fair." He, however, feels that TAM is a good indicator of the TV-viewing pattern. The industry should do its own research to supplement the data from TAM.

Another accusation is that there is no justification for the pre-defined pricing for TAM's services. TAM-baiters have been clamouring for an external audit to authenticate data. TAM says that it has a stringent internal audit process that complies with international Nielsen Gold Standards. The results have been shared with the industry. Its methodology, sampling, sample size, technology and panel home security is on the website. It is also interacting with professionals for external audits.

The ownership question

Kantar Research, one of TAM's parent companies, is a WPP Group company. Critics feel that this factor alone leaves the agency's integrity open to question. TAM states that it follows the highest ethical standards and runs its services in 30 countries. "We could not have done that had there been shortcomings," says Krishnan.

Sinha who represents Lodestar UM, a non-WPP agency, says, "I don't think that there is any question on TAM's credibility because of its relations with WPP. The primary problem is that of sample size. As long as that is taken care of, the rest of the issues are secondary." If the sample size does not go up, will a second agency do the trick?

Many are of the opinion that TAM is best suited for Hindi general entertainment, and channels in other major languages. A similar grievance exists for readership surveys as well. Readership surveys have been accused of being geared towards mass circulation newspapers and magazines. The results of small publications can be downright weird.

There has been an argument for developing a wholly redesigned measurement system with the sensitivity to enable meaningful analysis of special interest or non-mass channels. On the other hand, there could be a parallel to TAM. "If the users who created TAM want to look at another measurement source, it is up to them," says Krishnan.

Admits Punitha Arumugam, CEO, Madison Media Group, "Competition is good. But will the industry be able to come together and support another research body when TAM is evidently facing funding problems?" Satyajit Sen, CEO, ZenithOptimedia has an interesting point, "BARC had suggested the process of tenders to select a new player. But one needs to understand that we are not procuring a commodity where the decision will be based on the lowest bidder. Instead, we are trying to procure skill sets."


What the Amit Mitra Committee recommends
  • Widen the composition of BARC's constitution and make it more inclusive.

  • The formation of a high-powered committee, which will include members from various fields outside the industry, to steer research, design and analysis.

  • The committee's proposals should be binding on BARC.

  • Increase the sample size and number of peoplemeters to 15,000 in two years and 30,000 in five years.

  • Users of the data should infuse a certain percentage of their turnover to fund the expansion.

  • Reduce cost of peoplemeters by exploring innovation and local manufacturing techniques.

  • Consider reduction in their import duty.

  • Make the measurement methodology transparent.

  • Increase the periodicity of the announcements.

  • No cross holding between ratings agencies and its users.

  • The TRP measurement system should be a four-step process - design, quality control research, commissioning and establishment survey.

  • Guidelines set out in the TRAI 2008 Report on the key eligibility conditions of ratings agencies - operational, ethical and disclosure norms - should be followed.

    Note: If BARC fails to kick off changes and appoint the committee by June 2011, the government can enact legislation to take over (through TRAI or by other mechanisms) the regulation of audience measurement.

The politics of it

The government committee on TRPs has left many wondering why the government is intervening in an industry matter. The explanation is that Cable & Satellite (C&S) homes hardly watch Doordarshan. With cable prices falling, more terrestrial households are moving to C&S. In just four years, the number of C&S homes has shot up from 68 million in 2006 to 116 million in 2011. The only ones still on terrestrial TV are very low-income households, which are of low interest to marketers.

The government seems to believe that in the race for TRPs, channels often compromise on the quality of the content. But, TAM is hardly to be faulted for this and it seems like shooting the messenger. According to Rao, the politicians are joined by smaller broadcasters (mostly local stand-alone channels owned by local politicians) who don't have the financial muscle or perhaps the talent to take on the big boys. He also blames the print media for playing the supporting cast. "Fanning the flames is far easier than making the effort to understand the issues at hand," he says.

Joining forces

The JIB, or BARC as it is called now, was quite active in its initial years, but in the last many years it had become almost defunct. However, BARC is in the process of setting up a secretariat and an office. And there are agencies like AAAI that would like to play a role in the scheme of things. Krishnan believes that coming together is the need of the hour. Says Srinivasan Swamy, AAAI member and chairman and managing director of R K Swamy BBDO, "While the idea of JIB was initially mooted by AAAI, it saddened us that IBF chose to keep us out. And, though BARC has invited AAAI to be part of the technical committee, a decision is yet to be taken."

Ignore the flak that TAM is facing and take a look at its proactive performance over the past one dozen years. It incorporated the TVM5 digital platform neutral peoplemeter in 2007. This helped the industry understand the viewing behaviour of C&S homes vis--vis digital homes. It also set up the S-Group in 2002 to help broadcasters understand the dynamics - like changes in marketing and promotions, distribution, scheduling and content - that impact television viewing. TAM is also open to more ideas. "It will help if the industry body collates and documents all the expectations and allows us to address it formally," says Krishnan.

The ideal solution is open dialogue supported by a systematic and a clear blueprint that will talk about the exact needs of the industry. The government move could turn out to be the stick that will make BARC pull up its socks and get the industry together to find a long-term solution.

(With inputs from Anushree Bhattacharyya)

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