Television

News channels data blackout could devalue TV ratings as a currency

Stakeholders discuss impact of delay in resumption of news ratings in a webinar

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Mumbai: The news genre relies more heavily on TV ratings than others, argued industry stakeholders during a virtual webinar organised by Indiantelevision.com on Tuesday, highlighting that a major part of their revenues comes from advertising and discontinuation of TV ratings has impacted their ability to customise content, distribution and negotiate fair rates with advertisers.

The virtual panel discussion - ‘The Need for News TV Ratings’ organised by Indiantelevision.com was powered by Megaphone TV, and joined by stakeholders in the news broadcast and advertising industry. The session was moderated by Indiantelevision.com group’s founder CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanwari.

News broadcasters, agencies and advertisers highlighted that they are keen to understand how market dynamics have changed in terms of reach and viewership for the news channels after more than 15 months of ratings blackout by Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India. The ministry of information and broadcasting has mandated that ratings for news channels be resumed immediately, however, Barc India is yet to share the ratings for news channels.

TV ratings are a currency

TV ratings are a currency for selling advertising and are important for news channels. In a populous and diverse country such as India, these ratings are intended to be a statistical representation that intends to show the trend of ‘What India Watches’ and relies on certain methodologies to arrive at these conclusions. In October 2020, Barc suspended reporting data for individual news channels though it continued to report the viewership trend for the entire news genre.

“We are a midsized advertiser and we have a news-forward plan because we cater to a strong male audience,” said Lupin head of marketing consumer healthcare Supratik Sengupta. “During the blackout, at an AdEx level, we did not implement a news forward plan because we didn’t have the data. We shifted a certain amount of spends to digital and took gut calls on certain leading news channels in the absence of data. Without granular ratings, we started rotating our spends among the top four to five channels.”

He added, “Week 39’2020 was the last time data was reported for news channels. We’ve had a data dark situation for almost 60 weeks. It is criminal that a genre is not reported for such a long time, whatever the reason. Today, I don’t know the changes, if any, in news channels’ ratings compared to last time data was reported.”

“In absence of rating, we have been making justified recommendations to clients based on past data and other performance indicators such as views on digital assets,” stated Omnicom Media Group India managing partner and head of investment Yatin Balyan. “The advertisers’ sales team reviews on particular channels, in certain geographies also enabled us to make a more justified recommendation.”

Patanjali Ayurved COO – media and communications Anita Nayyar highlighted that there was a lot of volatility of viewership in the news space due to factors like recent events such as elections or budget, therefore regular reporting of ratings is important. "A news channel that stood on top in one week may drop dramatically in the next week because they do not have decent content. As a currency accepted by the industry, TV ratings told us whether to stop investing in a news channel because we all know where to invest based on historical data. Unlike the GEC genre, there is no reason why a newcomer cannot top the charts in the news genre because it is completely dependent on the content and the pulse of the audience the channel touches upon," she added.

Impact on news channels

The suspension of news channels had come at a time when relatively new channels were also garnering a significant share of viewership among news channels and advertisers were believed to be closely observing to see if this growth in ratings was a one-off or a long-term trend.

“The new entrants in the news industry have broken many glass ceilings of content and distribution to go to the top,” said Republic Media Network owner founder and editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami. “Nobody studies TV ratings more than news channels, so we may respond with better quality content, deeper discussion and ways to make the content more interactive. I spend over Rs 100 crore in distribution every year and have a right to know which markets are contributing to my viewership and plan accordingly.”

He further added, “Barc is supposed to make its decisions based on a consultative process but were media agencies, news channels and advertisers consulted before the decision to suspend ratings was taken? The process of determining ratings is the same for news genre and GECs yet only news channel ratings have been stopped.”

“The Hindi news genre which commands the largest share of revenues in the news genre saw a distinct change in the pecking order just before TV ratings were stopped,” said TV9 Network CEO Barun Das. “Even today there is ambiguity on why only news channel ratings have been suspended. The Technical Committee at Barc has approved a fresh way of calculating the data for the news genre but it continues to report other genres as usual.”

“There’s certainly going to be a spike in ratings during the elections,” noted Das alluding to the upcoming state elections. “Media buyers and advertisers would feel more confident spending their money and leveraging the news genre if the ratings are made available. The entire genre would benefit, especially the smaller regional channels whose dependence on advertiser confidence is greater than ours.”

“A period of 15 months is too much time for any industry to go without measurement,” remarked independent media consultant and industry observer Paritosh Joshi. “Any industry that does not measure itself sees a drop in revenue. A currency is a store of value, medium of exchange and basis of accounting, and all of these things are relevant as far as broadcasting is concerned. If you don’t have a basis of accounting or a medium of exchange for a significant period of time then it devalues the currency.”  

Monthly ratings for news genre

The ministry of information and broadcasting has recommended that Barc release news channels data based on a four-week average rolling concept. It has also instituted a committee to look into return path data (RPD) and its applications to strengthen TV measurement. Right off the bat, Paritosh Joshi noted, “RPD is not a substitute for a statistically sound sample.”

“In my mind, metrics such as TVR/TRP data tell you about the market share of a channel and as an advertiser I would like to have that data as quickly and frequently as possible,” said Sengupta. “While a four-week rolling basis for reporting data will not be a challenge at the planning level because we look at anywhere between four, six and 13-weeks average data for planning, it will be a problem at the post-evaluation level when I have to determine my campaign’s performance. That’s because we will only get an average and not exact data for the week that my ad spot ran.”

“Secondly, I am not aware of what measures Barc has taken to protect my data,” he added.

“While we take a long view of a four-week, eight-week or 13-week average basis, weekly ratings are important,” stated Balyan. “That’s because not every event, property or programme that we buy has a longer format. Take an election or any special programming on a news channel, we need to understand how our investments on that particular programme or channel have performed. We need to have a learning base to make a futuristic recommendation and thereby our approach to a particular partner.”

Paritosh Joshi shared an example of best practice followed by the UK’s TV measurement council BARB. He said, “If a particular broadcast platform’s previous three or six-months’ share of voice in the entire raw panel has come down by a certain percentage (let’s say one per cent), it is no longer qualified for weekly ratings. Depending on how low the ratings have fallen, the frequency of that channels’ ratings may be changed to month, quarterly or even half yearly.”

He elaborated, "This is not necessarily bad nor does it discredit the platform. Just because the India Readership Survey does a quarterly reporting of data or longer, doesn’t mean that has stopped anyone from buying print. In fact, in some cases it works very well, giving fairly decent forensics to show how viewers are behaving. So, the frequency of data reporting should not depend on the genre, but rather on an objective determinant that says what the share of voice was in the previously leading period. There is really no need to put out all the data in the same way. While we may choose to go with a one size fits all approach in India, this is not the best practice."

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