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Is the time right for a single readership survey?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | December 26, 2003
If TAM and INTAM could merge, then why not a single currency as far as readership surveys go, ask analysts and observers


The NRS 2003 will probably go down in history as the most controversial, and the most hastily released and withdrawn survey. Mired in litigation, the Delhi High Court on Friday (December 19) directed the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC) - which brings out the print media readership estimates or the National Readership Survey annually - to come out with its report for 2003 within a week.

At a follow-up meeting cum gathering of select INS (Indian Newspaper Society), ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) and NRSC representatives in Mumbai on December 19, it was decided that December 23, would be the D-day, when the much-delayed and controversial findings would be released.

A relieved Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison Communications, who is on the governing council of the NRS 2003, had confirmed the piece of news to agencyfaqs!, when contacted on the morning of December 20, saying, "The Delhi High Court passed a directive that superceded everything else, stating that the topline findings should be released within a week. The date set is for December 23, at 4.00 pm."

What transpired post this conversation with agencyfaqs! took everybody by surprise including this website. The findings were released the same night; that is, on December 20 at 9.00 pm. The release was preponed to preempt another round of litigation, which would further delay the release of the findings that was, in any case, overdue by a few months.

As it turned out, litigation is something that the NRSC has not be able to get rid of, at least for the time being. In a ruling on December 22, the Delhi High Court ordered a stay on further distribution and use of the NRS 2003 data.

At a broader level, the suit filed by Jaipur-based Mapsor Advertising came as a big blow to the NRSC, whose intents came under question when signs of a delay became obvious somewhere in October this year. The news about The Times Of India leading in Delhi, ostensibly before the findings were out, cast further doubt on the authority of the survey, which is 33 years old, with the IRS (Indian Readership Survey) being the more recent of the two, launched post the formation of the Media Research Users Council or MRUC in February 1994.

In the hue and cry that followed fuelled by editorials and advertisements in The Times Of India, an important point has been lost: Is the time right for a single readership survey, which will be the de facto currency in the print industry?

Jameel Gulrays, media veteran, who runs media-buying outfit Versatile Communications, says, "The time was right from day one. There was no need for two surveys because the moment you have two currencies, doubts and discrepancies creep in."

Adds Amit Ray, executive vice-president, media, Mudra Communications, and vice-chairman of the IRS technical sub-committee, "Two currencies have nothing to do with practical realities; it has more to do with egos. Two currencies imply that the universe is split into two. If the readership based on one study is equal to the readership based on the other, it is fine, if a gap exists, then the problem starts. Who tells you, which one is right? Hence, conceptually it is incorrect to have two surveys."

Of course, there are those who are quite comfortable with two surveys. Says Arpita Menon, media director, Lodestar, who is on the technical committee of the NRS 2003, "No, I don't believe that there should be a single readership survey. Indian mentality is such that one gets complacent when there is a monopoly. I am quite comfortable with two readership surveys because it does tend to keep both players on their toes, constantly innovating and fine-tuning the product."

Understandably, a single readership survey leading to a monopoly, is a point frequently raised by planners and buyers desirous of avoiding a hegemony a la TAM as in the case of television audience measurement. The issue frequently debated in the case of TAM is that the sample size is not a true representation of the size of television audiences in the country nor is the peoplemeter technology able to capture the diversity and complexity of television-viewing habits.

Many fear that a similar "complacency" could creep into a single or unified readership survey, which may not be in the best of interests of media owners, planners, buyers and above all, clients or advertisers. "But, there is no point in going back and forth between two competing surveys," says Ravi Kiran, managing director, Starcom (west/south), "Methodology apart, there can be only this much difference between the two of them," he adds.

Which brings us to the question: Can the market support two studies of this stature? Media veterans seem to think otherwise. "The strain on the industry in terms of supporting two surveys is enormous and ideally it makes sense if there is one survey," points Sandip Singh, COO, Live Satellite Media.

PRP Nair, vice-president, media, RK Swamy/BBDO, echoes a similar point of view. "It is always in the interest of the industry, if there is one dependable study. Industry captains should forget their personal differences and come together to take the lead in this case because readership surveys decide the future of most media vehicles." © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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