Media and mayhem in Mumbai

By , agencyfaqs!, na | In Advertising | September 05, 2001
The Tam-Intam story is one of the great media mysteries of recent times. Here is a list of some of the frenzied questions you are probably asking yourself

By an agencyfaqs! correspondent

The Tam-Intam story is one of the great media mysteries of recent times. Here is a list of some of the frenzied questions you are probably asking yourself. In response to which agencyfaqs! presents some cool and other utterly improbable answers:

Whodunnit? The propagation of this story has been done systematically. One of the seniormost executives of a major network has had 'the list' - as it is now known - for at least a month. And over the last few weeks, the list of panelists has been gradually finding its way to every major agency and, in recent days, to media companies.

Does it matter if it was propagated? No, not if what has been alleged is true. However, the channel has chosen to downplay its involvement by using an anonymous source to feed the media.

Can the panelist data be easily manipulated? 'Ease' really has to do with the effort involved relative to the benefit. Considering that the data is used to determine investments worth a few thousand crore rupees annually, yes, it is easy. But there is one big if: if the manipulator has access to the list of panelists. Because influencing a few dozen households in any city could significantly alter the TRP ratings.

One list…but two? To get the list of panelists of even one of the MR agencies is a remarkable achievement. But to get that of both is espionage.

Security issue: If the lists are correct, there has been the most horrendous carelessness by both MR companies. They should have been aware of just how much money was riding on this data and that someone could be tempted to manipulate it.

However…: However, it is easy to be wise after the event. The research had been conducted in the same way year after year to the point where everybody looked forward to the weekly results but had lost sight of the manner in which it was conducted.

Where was the supervision? All major surveys involving media count on the involvement of agencies and advertisers to go into issues like methodology, sampling etc. If what has been alleged is true, it means both advertisers and agencies who were on board both these studies were lax.

Does manipulation never happen? Attempted manipulation happens all the time. Forget TV, and just look at the press. The use of money by cash-rich publishing houses to print and dump copies is an accepted fact: the only issue is one of degree. Another example: whenever sampling for one of the readership surveys is on, publishing houses sharply increase advertising in the city to increase salience and thereby get more respondents to say that yes, they read that particular publication. These are but two commonly used ploys. There are many others.

Why then is everyone so horrified by the Tam-Intam business? In every business, some degree of shortcuts exist. However, over time, these sharp practices gain legitimacy for no other reason than the fact that they have been around for long. But the revelation of the list of panelists is a first-time instance…

Were doubts about the data ever expressed? Every viewership or readership survey generates controversy. There are always winners - and losers. So too with Tam and Intam. Some grumbled about one, some about the other, and some about both. But that was always in the natural order of unhappiness.

Did manipulation really happen? The fact that the Mumbai panelists' names were available means that there certainly was a security breach. However, the media is prejudging the issue in saying that data was manipulated. As yet, there is no evidence. It is akin to a door being left open by accident…but did a theft take place? We don't yet know.

Now what? We can safely expect all the advertising, advertiser and media bodies to express collective horror, which is understandable. Whether in politics or in business, a churn however ugly, serves to reach parts of the business no one dares to reach and clean in normal times. So while we didn't ask for it, we will be glad for it tomorrow.

Anything else? Yup, this incident serves to highlight how vulnerable organizations have become to information leakage. There is a soft copy of virtually every document. Today, make a list of all the sensitive documents you have trusted to your juniors and your colleagues. All it takes is for one of them to make an attachment and press 'send' - and it could have been you in the headlines.

© 2001 agencyfaqs!