In October 2012, TAM's data was suspended for nine weeks, owing to digitisation. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), jointly decided to defer the data. The reason was: the switchover of cable homes to digital homes could well have caused discrepancies in TAM's reporting of data, which could have had serious financial and credibility-related implications, particularly for broadcasters.
Now, the industry might see yet another TAM blackout period, one that could last for over nine months - till the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) rolls out its first ratings, expected on October 1.
With the latest guidelines notification issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), no promoter of a rating agency can own more than 10 per cent shares in either an ad agency or a broadcaster. This clause presumably deals with issues pertaining to conflict of interest. Since WPP owns Kantar -- that jointly owns TAM, with Nielsen (the two have 50:50 share in TAM) -- as well as several ad agencies, this guideline would go against TAM, unless its stake is diluted within 30 days.
Since the dilution of equity looks difficult, the result could be disqualification of TAM post mid-February. Further, since TAM is presently the only television measurement currency in India there will be no ratings at all for almost nine months if TAM doesn't comply with the ministry guidelines.
As the Indian broadcast industry heads towards a zone sans ratings, or a "dark period" as some experts choose to call it, we speak to some stakeholders about the implications of this on the business and about how they plan to tackle it. Excerpts.
I think it's a call to be taken by the government and TAM. There is conjuncture at this point in time; it might or might not happen. We can still navigate for some time, based on the previous data, till BARC comes into place. The best thing is that BARC's output will be much better than the existing one. It will be a dramatic change because of the comprehensiveness of reach. Plus, the technology used by TAM is old and, at best, inaccurate. For a much sharper view on consumption, the new way is better.
Assuming a lot of work will be done to fine tune and test the sample size, before BARC starts rolling out data, the ratings will definitely look different (good for some, bad for some) when you move from a sample of 25 crore (currently) to 70 crore; that is the real and accurate data.
When you bring in a new set of consumers, the viewing pattern will change. It is not at all a good thing to not have a currency at a given point in time, but we are in a unique situation where we feel the current currency isn't comprehensive and probably inaccurate.
As it is there are no ratings for radio or OOH, so I don't really think advertisers' spends will move out of TV. If print can work for so many years (without ratings), so can TV for some time. I don't think ad-rates on TV will come down either.
Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors
From a broadcasters' point of view any kind of blackout is not good for the industry. It can seriously impact advertising revenues especially for live sports, new launches and high value non-fiction properties. In any kind of change, there must be a smooth transition.
Ashok Venkatramani, CEO, MCCS
Life without ratings will not be normal. Advertisers will be very cautious about investing if there is no measuring instrument. It will be a period of anarchy and it definitely concerns broadcasters. You cannot switch from one phase to another at gunpoint.
Having said that, I am hopeful that the Ministry (MIB) and the broadcasters will find a solution; may be TAM will get some more time.
The absence of ratings could certainly affect the television business. All genres will be impacted equally but there are chances that news channels will be less impacted because they are sold on the back of imagery and brand equity. On the contrary, entertainment channels are sold on the back of weekly ratings.
Saurabh Srivastava, VP, marketing and product strategy, ixigo.com
Having any kind of blackout in ratings will definitely add to the existing chaos and will affect scientific buying on television. However, I feel it is reasonably manageable in the short term and will not affect ongoing deals too much. Empirical data of the last several months will act as a cornerstone for buying (ad slots) on television for the next few months. Beyond that, of course it is questionable.
A bigger impact of this will be felt by GRP-led channels like GECs, cricket channels and specific live events. It might not affect niche and lifestyle channels as much, as they are sold not just on the back of ratings alone, but on audience and imagery.
For pure-play digital brands like ixigo and other e-commerce players, empirical data such as traffic/transactions/leads, which are almost immediate, might still be a good way of measuring success or failure of television buying. However it'll be harder for FMCG and durable brands to measure the impact of tactical campaigns as the gestation cycle of conversion is sometimes much longer. In the absence of any common currency of evaluation, they may find it challenging.
Another dimension to the story is the timely and effective implementation of BARC by Q3 or earlier if possible. A lot will depend on the transparency and scale that the new system brings to the table and whether it is able to answer some of the long unanswered questions that TAM raised amongst broadcasters and advertisers over the years.
Amol Mohandas, VP, Allied Media
In case of absence of ratings in the future, I feel historical ratings of any show will really help. The tough part will be for media planners; they will have to gauge viewership trends and performance of a particular show based on the time slot and performance of previous seasons of that television property.
I don't think there will be any major change in terms of viewership till the third phase of digitisation (around September this year). Having said that, it will still be challenging for planners as they will have to use estimates to determine GRPs and amount of reach the advertiser will get by investing a certain amount. Their expertise will come into play. The diligence of media planners will help us sail through this crucial time. I also see senior level executives intervening in the recommendations made to clients.