The great TAMasha

The drama’s all off-screen as advertisers and broadcasters face off over a new monthly ratings system

A lot can happen in a month, especially in the broadcast industry. In June, when broadcasters were withdrawing their subscriptions from TAM (Television Audience Measurement) Media Research — currently the only mechanism to assess television viewership in India — advertisers had its back, reiterating support and warning that abandoning the ratings system would be “regressive”. Fast forward to July, and the same advertisers are now slamming both, the ratings agency and broadcasters, for switching to a new ratings system. The time period of the new system? A month.

What happened was that TAM appeased broadcasters who attacked its “flawed” measurement system — against 154 million TV viewing households, it has a sample size of just 9,000, which throws up incongruous results like a rating of zero for CNBC in Delhi in June. “For GECs, viewership has dropped by 25-30% between January and June. That means people have stopped watching TV, which we completely disagree with,” says Rohit Gupta, president (network sales), Multi Screen Media (see: The last straw).

Now, TAM has switched to monthly rather than weekly ratings for about nine networks, including Star India, Multi Screen Media, Viacom 18, TV18, Zee and NDTV. Other channels, meanwhile, will continue getting weekly ratings. Not having a uniform system across networks hasn’t gone down well with the interested parties. Terming this system “hybrid”, CVL Srinivas, CEO, GroupM (South Asia), the world’s largest media investment management group with clients such as Hindustan Unilever and Vodafone, says this will definitely hamper media planning, buying and pricing on television. “It will cause a negative impact on television advertising spending. Advertisers have already started pulling out their ads due to the confusion,” he adds. 

You don’t have to look far for reasons why broadcasters want to switch to monthly ratings — they get averaged-out numbers and delayed results buy them time with advertisers. Not surprisingly, then, broadcasters don’t think moving to monthly ratings is a cause for concern. “It’s just that people have gotten used to weekly ratings,” says Markand Adhikari, vice-chairman and managing director, Shri Adhikari Brothers Television Network, which owns channels like Mastiii and Dhamaal and continues to be on the weekly system.

As things stand, advertisers are the most directly affected party — the weekly ratings system has been in place for over 14 years and most media planning and buying happens on the basis of those numbers. What is particularly galling for most players is that internationally, the trend is for “day-after” ratings, which makes monthly ratings a giant step backward. Marquee advertisers have already made their displeasure evident — media reports say top advertisers like Hindustan Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Bharti Airtel and Colgate-Palmolive have threatened to stop all television advertising until the monthly ratings are once again replaced with weekly numbers. 

Another big advertiser, Havells India, is also considering other options. The company spends a sizeable ₹130 crore on advertising each year, with at least half going on cricket. With monthly ratings, points out joint managing director, Anil Gupta, the company “loses control over the efficiency of money we put on these channels; our reaction time will be slower”. While cricket advertising may continue unchanged, Gupta points to the huge opportunities in digital and print advertising. “We may cut our exposure to television and reduce our risk,” he adds.

That’s a thought echoed by smaller advertisers, who stand to lose even more by punting on month-old ratings. “We are already increasing our exposure to other media such as digital and outdoor,” says Shekhar Agarwal, director, Surya Food, which manufactures the Priyagold biscuits brand. The company has an annual advertising budget of ₹20 crore, 65% of which is traditionally spent on TV. 

Advertisers are also pinning their hopes on the Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC), which is working on an alternative to TAM that should be ready sometime next year.  

It is unlikely that advertisers will stay away from television for too long. Right now, it doesn’t matter much — July to September are lean advertising months. But once the festive season begins, they are more than likely to return, if they leave in the first place, that is.