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Points of View: Is the new IRS being unjustly bashed?

Shortly after receiving their 2013 report card, several newspaper brands have openly criticised the new IRS system. Is the criticism fair or are these brands simply being sore losers?

When there is any major change, there are upsets that follow. Several newspaper brands are upset with the outcome of the new IRS process, and are very vocal about it too.

This time, there were changes in the methodology (a digital entry system was introduced), data collection (the questionnaire was divided into two sets and later fused) and sampling (the sample size was reduced in number but was made inclusive of new geographies).

Given these changes, the current results cannot be compared with last time's figures. While the MRUC, the research agency behind IRS, may echo this, disgruntled newspaper brands roll their eyes saying "Try telling the media planner that." The planner, after all, is more concerned with the figures than the process that led to them.

As with any situation, counter-arguments can always be made - it's not like the now disgruntled newspaper brands were unaware that a new system was being introduced; their dissatisfaction comes only in the light of the result. Which brings us to our question: Is this criticism of the new IRS process fair?

Here's what our respondents had to say. Excerpts.

Rajul Maheshwari, managing director, Amar Ujala Publications

Yes. Amar Ujala recognises that a new methodology has been deployed in the fieldwork, but that does not absolve the research authorities from their responsibility of ensuring that the data reflects reality to a reasonable extent. I firmly believe that the new system/technology that has been deployed for this survey is full of flaws.

I also believe a comparison with the previous round of the survey is quite justified, and it is incorrect for the council to dissuade such a comparison.

Mallikarjun Das
Pradeep Dwivedi
Shubhodip Pal
Arvind Kalia

Mallikarjun Das, CEO, Starcom MediaVestGroup India

I don't think the criticism is fair. These kinds of things have happened in the past. If I go back around 15 years when the television measurement system changed from diaries to people meters, the paradigm of measurement and the numbers changed at the time.

I suppose the industry is a bit worried because today, monies can move more fluidly from one medium to the other. Digital is snapping at the heels of print and television. Today, with the uncertainties of television and a possible ratings black out, maybe some of the people in print thought it was an opportunity for their medium. Now they probably feel there's a possibility of revenues moving to other media. So they probably feel all this has not come at the right time. I feel the fear and worry is not just related to monies moving from one publication to another but also away from the medium itself.

But from a media planner perspective, we are scientific. This is a matter of currency; when the currency changes, certain things cannot be compared with the past. The technology and methodology have changed. The belief is that things have changed for the better; that's the premise we're going with. So, it is both a challenge and responsibility for the media planner; he has to factor this change in. We should take a measured view on this.

Maybe we'll go through a similar upheaval in television as well, if and when the BARC system comes in. These are all things for which, beyond a point, we can't blame the currency. In the last one year, it seems to have become a habit for people to blame the currency for every single thing.

Pradeep Dwivedi, chief corporate sales and marketing officer, Dainik Bhaskar Group

We have observed lot of anomalies in the IRS 2013 report. The approach is irrational, inaccurate and far from both, market perception and ground realities. There are serious lapses in the sanctity of the process.

The outcomes in the report appear pre-ordained to disproportionately benefit specific media groups. According to MRUC, trend assessment of this data vis a vis the previous IRS report is not recommended due to changes in the methodology, sample size and research agency. But, it is obvious to any observer that either the previous reports were faulty or there is an issue of credibility with the new one.

Surely there's similar dissent across the industry and others also want immediate recall and recalibration of this report. Once that is done, media agencies and advertisers can make rational decisions based on sound data and not be swayed by the errors in this report.

Shubhodip Pal, chief marketing officer, Micromax

As of now I'll just go with the flow and then figure out how these numbers actually impact things.

The IRS numbers will have some impact for us, going forward. Even our retail network at the ground level gives us a lot of inputs. They help us plan our publications. And today, there are so many publications in each state. We're clear when it comes to English speaking audiences, but for regional publications, the carpet bombing technique leads to wastage of money. So yes, it is like a yardstick.

We'll see how it goes. We'll be mindful of the fact that the process has changed; I know there is a lot of confusion right now but I have the right to compare figures. Nobody can dictate that to us. We have that freedom. We have numbers that are decades old and if need be we will use them too.

Arvind Kalia, national head, marketing, Patrika Group

Criticism revolves around three things. One: Compared to last year, what is the result now? Two: Compared to competitors, what is the situation now? Three: Correlation between circulation and readership data.

As regards the first type, it was made clear at the beginning of the survey that the data of 2013 is not comparable to that of the previous IRS rounds due to drastic modifications in methodology. So now comparing the two results is not technically right.

As regards the second type of criticism, through which Patrika has been targeted, I'd like to say that we have been consistently doing well in all our territories and have been constantly increasing our penetration and faring well on parameters such as ABC, impact stories, AdEx, etc.

As regards the correlation between circulation and readership, instances in which the numbers for the two go in distinct directions should be settled on a case-by-case and geographical/area basis. Nearly all newspapers have faced such situations - that is, circulation going down/staying constant and readership going up, or vice versa. The two types of data are not fully correlated. We cannot make one as the base to determine the other and we need a bigger model to analyse their interdependence.

(With inputs from Raushni Bhagia)

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