Benita Chacko

Are marketers rethinking their strategy towards television news channels?

After Zee Media and NDTV, iTV Network was the third to pull out of BARC last week.

iTV Network pulled out its nine channels from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India on November 22. It was the third television news network, after Zee Media and NDTV, to pull out of the viewership measurement company.

In its official statement, iTV network said there is a total loss of faith and credibility in the working of BARC.

“Time and again, we’ve raised our concern and reservations over the arbitrary and unilateral mechanism being used by BARC. We have raised very serious issues regarding the reliability/trustworthiness of the Ratings, but none of our concerns has been addressed till date. We, along with many broadcasters, are forced to remain connected with BARC because it is the only TV Ratings Agency and enjoys a dominant position. The unexplained actions of BARC have greatly damaged our networks," the statement read.

Zee Media pulled out of the measurement system in September, citing issues with the landing page. NDTV was the first news channel to exit BARC, in March, over alleged infirmities in the rating system. It demanded that the council expand its sample size to ensure that the measurement process cannot be rigged or manipulated.

In the face of these allegations, are marketers rethinking their strategy towards news channels?

The news genre on television has been facing turbulent times in the last couple of years with issues like the Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation scam and the landing page placements. Owing to the TRP scam, BARC India had suspended ratings data for the news genre in October 2020 and it was resumed only in March this year after a 17-month-break. So far only the news genre has raised complaints about the functioning of BARC.

A senior news industry professional, on the condition of anonymity, says there are multiple issues with the current system of television news ratings. The BARC-generated data is unreliable to take editorial and advertising calls. For example, one day it shows most viewers are watching news around the Russia-Ukraine crisis and on another it says viewers are most interested in content around astrology and horoscopes. With this, clients are not buying the TRP data and instead base their decisions on pre-2020 data, YouTube data and social media conversations.

However, it remains an important part of any brand's media plan. According to TAM’s half year AdEx numbers, the January to June 2022 period saw 33% indexed growth in ad volumes in the news genre compared to the same period last year.

Marketers say that the channels pulling out of the system are not going to impact the larger ecosystem and they will continue to spend on the genre.

In June, the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), a shareholder in BARC India and an apex body of advertisers comprising big corporate houses, had issued an advisory to its members to watch out for those news channels that are pulling out of the audience measurement system. It directed advertisers to independently assess these channels and take an informed decision.

Most large advertisers, including Dabur, Maruti Suzuki and Parle Products, do not solely rely on the BARC data to make key decisions.

Are marketers rethinking their strategy towards television news channels?

The news genre is an important media for Dabur. In fact, after GECs, news is the most important genre in terms of investments. Rajiv Dubey, senior general manager and head of media, Dabur, says, it spends its own money to do research and find out the preferred television channels and the consumer viewing behaviour.

"None of these channels that have walked out, except Zee's national channels, feature in our list of preferred channels," he says.

Similarly, Maruti Suzuki India, which has allocated 11% of its media spends on the news genre so far this year, also conducts its independent research.

Are marketers rethinking their strategy towards television news channels?

Shashank Srivastava, executive director, sales and marketing, Maruti Suzuki India, says the questions raised on the methodology of the measurement system is a difficult and serious issue.

"One question is the basis of the rating itself and the other is the methodology of the execution. The basis can always be improved, but the second part is more difficult and serious. While spending huge money on advertising, some sort of basis is needed. We can't take decisions purely on the basis of our judgement," he says.

Are marketers rethinking their strategy towards television news channels?

Parle Products conducts its independent surveys through dialogues with its channel partners. Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products, says not having a metric doesn't affect its advertising strategy. The revenue of the channels exiting BARC also doesn't take a major hit. Only certain advertisers who consider the numbers as the last word pull out.

"When these channels suddenly pull out of BARC, advertisers are not going to pull out of those channels. Over a period of time if we see that the channel is not offering good content or has other issues like toxicity or propaganda building, only then advertisers take a call," he says.

Dubey says these news channels that pull out of the system will suffer in the long term.

"They may not feel an impact in the short term. However, advertisers, like us, who are listed companies, will go by something measured," he says.

In 2020, news channels comprised 43% of the total registered channels in India. Furthermore, in the same year news genre viewership was 10.4%.

"At the top there is space only for one channel and if a news channel does not stay on the top it loses favour with the advertisers," Dubey says.

Another raging issue for news media is the landing page issue. Dubey says it is not a sustainable model for the channels. "Only one channel can use the landing page. In a media plan we use around 200 channels. The full media spend is not going to that one channel. As advertisers, we can use our judgement to decide about that channel," he adds.

"When you do it cumulatively over a period of time the effect may be small. It is not a problem for marketers right now," Srivastava agrees.

Are marketers rethinking their strategy towards television news channels?

Paritosh Joshi, an independent media and communication consultant, says the landing page issue is not for BARC to solve. "BARC tries to deal with everything that attempts to subvert the integrity of the system. But this is a distribution issue or an issue for industry bodies," he says.

Buddha says BARC needs to work on setting its process right and establishing its transparency,

"As a member of ISA, Parle is also a stakeholder in BARC. But that doesn't mean we will allow any kind of lapse in the overall process. We keep demanding for improved or well thought processes in place. We'll keep demanding for a streamlined process. Meanwhile, the broadcasters should not move out. the idea is to have a robust system in place through discussions," he says.

Impact on the networks that have exited BARC

Joshi says agencies and clients are not going to stop using the metric because a few broadcasters have boycotted it.

"The rest of the television industry continues to be measured. There's no other basis for television advertising," he says.

Any medium to survive and thrive needs to have an agnostic measurement system.

"Any media industry that attempts to go without measurement for an indefinite period of time is endangering itself," he says.

According to estimates, the HSM viewer spends three and a half hours watching television everyday. However, barely half an hour or less is spent watching the news. The English news numbers are even worse, at around seven and a half to eight minutes. Joshi stresses that it is time for these news channels to self-examine their content and check if it is truly serving its purpose.

"It is not even the entire genre which has the problem. The time spent on news is much higher in the south than in the HSM. This just speaks of real content poverty. It is a stark and unpleasant commentary on the state of the entire genre. Being petulant will not serve them well. It will be detrimental to their own advertising proposition," he says.

afaqs! reached out to BARC for comments, but until the time of publication there was no response.

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