The NDTV-Nielsen tussle has brought to the forefront a long standing issue which, although old, remains equally relevant for all stakeholders. TAM has been knocked about by its users just too often. However, careful observations clearly suggest that the advertisers have always been the more silent stakeholders in the overall case. So, why is it that the advertisers are less disappointed with TAM when compared to the moaning broadcasters? afaqs! explores...
TAM is not a local outfit but a joint venture between AC Nielsen and Kantar Media Research. Evidently, advertisers firmly believe that such global entities would never make deliberate attempts to manipulate data and thus mar their reputation - not just in a local market, but rather, internationally.
Advertisers and marketers agree that the sample size taken up by TAM for the Indian TV viewing population is much smaller in size than what should be; geographical representations are weak, wherein the skew is more toward the western regions and some markets from the South. In fact, many times, when targeting the premium SEC A audience, a media planner uses his gut feel along with data analysis since the representation usage of this segment in TAM is almost flawed.
"But that's because the system was designed when media was less fragmented; today, while the industry has become much more complicated, TAM, to a large extent, still stands in the bygone era," says a top telecom marketer on conditions of anonymity.
Consequently, advertisers almost unanimously agree that while TAM's data research is blemished, data manipulation is something that a globally-led organisation would not do, as too much integrity would be at stake. Anyway, any research always comes with its own set of limitations, they aver.
If not more, the services offered by TAM are equally shared between the broadcasters and the advertisers. And in this case, the advertisers more often than not accept the judgment pronounced by the third party called TAM without too many questions asked.
Why? Because they believe that TAM has been appointed "to provide us with a fair judgment and therefore we accept it on face value. Meanwhile, since the judgment is passed on the broadcasters, this section feels unfairly judged and victimised," is the industry consensus.
It's as simple as this. Under-reporting, over-reporting or even an exact precision of a television channel's numbers does not hurt an advertiser as much. Say, if a brand decides to spend Rs 100 on television, it will choose to spend on a channel which, as per TAM numbers, matches the brand's objective and target audience. So, for instance, for an FMCG brand, since the choice is highly dependent on GRPs and reach, GECs become an integral part of the plan. Meanwhile, for a brand like Micromax, it's more about brand recall and saliency and therefore, engagement is a 'must' in the plan.
Consequently, Micromax could choose to spend that very Rs 100 on other media vehicles such as on-ground or digital rather than a TV channel. So, for an advertiser, the fight is more about choosing the right channel and the right media platform to spend that Rs 100. But for a broadcaster, that Rs 100 spent on it is its bread and butter. As a result, the whining of the broadcaster is louder than its client.
No option but TAM...
TAM's monopolisation in the Indian market is by default and not by design. For years now, the Indian television industry has been belting TAM for its opaque strategic procedures and whispering the need of another body that will take up an equal and open responsibility toward the industry. And yet, none of those profound thoughts have taken shape in reality. Yes, the industry did find an alternative for a while in a body like aMap but nevertheless, the majority chose to go by TAM on grounds that the sample size used by aMap was even smaller. Result? aMap (Audience Measurement & Analytics) had to shut shop in August, 2011.
Industry experts believe that despite being a part of the industry since 2005, aMap had not been able to make much of a dent in the research market for the broadcast industry. Not many agencies subscribed to aMap, and since research requires huge investments, the company failed to monetise its services.
The industry has also been talking about the urgent need for the active launch of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), a nationwide audience research joint body by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI).
BARC was formed in 2008 but was formally launched in March this year. However, the body is yet to start functioning. The IBF suggests that the ISA and AAAI are responsible for the slow progression of BARC and even as the blame game continues, it seems like it will still take a while before BARC finally finds shape as a solid and preferential body governing TAM. Till then, TAM will be the only choice for a brand to give a certain direction to its overall media plan (which is also designed on gut feel) and therefore, continue to be the Holy Grail or Bible when it comes to TV audience measurement in India.