Why did the Ministry delay the release of TAM data?

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | December 20, 2012
Late at night on December 18, TAM informed that it took the decision to delay the rating release process following a specific request by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to withhold the release of the news channels' data by two or three days. What's the reason behind this?

The digitisation rollout across the major metros had been superbly executed. With everything falling into place, the TV industry was looking forward to the return of TAM (Television Audience Measurement) data which had been suspended for 10 weeks to help the transition from analog to digital. The build up to the release of the viewership data on December 19 had almost been like a suspense thriller. And, just when the secret was about to get out through the 'latest' Phase I digitisation numbers, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Ministry (MIB) stepped in to prolong the thriller once again.

Why did the Ministry delay the release of TAM data?

Late at night on December 18, TAM sent out a message to its subscribers stating that "at the request of the I&B Ministry, Government of India, and in concurrence with IBF, AAAI and ISA, we are delaying the data release to Thursday/Friday."

TAM also informed that it took the decision to delay the rating release process since the MIB had requested to specifically withhold the release of the news channels data by two or three days. What difference would a couple of days make to the prospects of news channels? Or is there a possibility that the postponement may be longer than that? In the absence of an official explanation, theories abound.

The first theory centres around the recent state assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Interest in the news genre has shot up as a result. News channels tend to be especially competitive at times like this because it is a great opportunity to attract new viewers.

"Though their popularity shoots up, ironically the ability of news channels to carry advertising drops sharply because they focus more on content than on advertising. In such a situation, if there is a huge volatility in the numbers on account of the digitisation process, which might unsettle advertisers. These channels don't want that," says a top industry official on conditions of anonymity.

Sundeep Nagpal

Sundeep Nagpal, director, Stratagem Media, a consultancy, has a different take. He notes that the election results for Gujarat can be a real hot topic for television coverage. Hence, the news channels could stand to earn some last minute advertising revenues. "If, after the results, the penetration of any particular channel falls, then it will not be able to justify the ad spot rates that it is charging currently. Given the sample size and the methodology that TAM is following for the digitisation process, this is likely to happen wherein at least the English news channels are likely to suffer the most," he says.

But why not stop just the news genre data and release the rest?

The answer is simple. It's because TV is finally just one big bucket, where every channel is competing against the other for consumer attention and therefore, it would look sillier to have the data out on every other genre but not news. "Also, suppressing one part of the data, while releasing the other part, could become a tedious task. So, just for a two-day delay, we assume TAM did not want to suppress parts of the data," the a senior executive avers.

Paritosh Joshi

Deferring the news genre data to 2013

Commenting on the news broadcasters' desire to delay the news genre data to March 2013, when the next phase of digitisation would be completed, some note that not many in the industry - planners, buyers and advertisers - would want to wait that long.

"If this happens, the news genre will be its own worst enemy. Because the rest of the genres will be available and then one will be forced to believe that news must be at a particularly bad place and therefore they are not publishing. So, if this is delayed till the first quarter of 2013, news as a genre will get busted," says Paritosh Joshi, ex-CEO, Star CJ Network India and member of the BARC technical committee.

The news broadcaster's point of view

afaqs! spoke to a few top news channel executives who, on conditions of anonymity, state that they want the data-delay since all processes of digitisation have not been completed yet.

They note that in a scenario where the industry is changing from analog to digital, the entire environment is changing. This means that at a consumer level, people are changing from using analog cable to a set-top box; for cable operators, they are to change from fixed fee billing to rather packaged revenues; for a broadcaster, it will change from a fixed fee system to subscriber revenues; and for FTA channels, it will change from carriage fee in an analog scenario to deals which will happen on per-subscriber basis rather than on whims.

As of now, except for the change from using analog cable to a set-top box (that is the first step), the other strides have not been taken, the industry says. Therefore, the consensus is that TAM should not release data at least till the second phase of digitisation comes to an end.

"Kolkata will be digitised by December 27. The second phase of digitisation ends on March 31, 2013. Now, if Phase 2 is to follow the same process as Phase 1, then quite like Phase I, February 15, 2013 onwards TAM data blackout is applicable. So, why come out with data for just four weeks? This will just create chaos," say news broadcasters.

Meanwhile, the rest of the TV business will just have to cool its heels.

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