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'Funding key to improve TV audience measurement'

December 29, 2008 14:16 IST

The business of TV audience measurement may become tough for private players like TAM Media and aMap with the government putting them under the scanner.

Chief executive of TAM Media LV Krishnan and and CEO, aMap, Amit Varma, share their concerns on the business of TV ratings in an interview with Ashish Sinha.

Anti-TV audience measurement feeling is gaining momentum? What's your defence?

Krishnan: We take cognizance of the genuine criticisms -- one of them obviously being the subject of sample size. But we are part of an international organisation with international parentage (AC Nielsen, Kantar Media), therefore we follow the same international standards of working in India too.

Also, the Indian TAM system is one of the largest in the world-from 1,800 people meters (sample collecting devices) in 1998 to 7,200 in 2007, the number is slated to go up to 8000 by the end of 2008.

We have also increased our presence in towns - growing from nine in 1998 to 145 in 2008.

Varma: Transformation brought in by changing technology, increasing business complexity and rapid growth in audiences has led to growing concerns about the adequacy of legacy systems to deliver the best in the new paradigm.

Historical practices in audience measurement-some of them well intentioned-may be inadequate for the new reality.

Whether or not the past was served well, the future does need to be served differently.

Do you think the government's intervention can streamline the business?

Krishnan: TAM is a system for the industry, of the industry and by the industry. So we leave it to our industry body comprising advertising agencies and broadcasters to react and respond on this.

Varma: The government's key role will be in ensuring that only market forces decide the entry, exit and continuance of players in the audience measurement business.

It will have to ensure that vested interests do not keep away better alternatives just because they challenge status quo.

Why are rural homes in the country not monitored by ratings agencies like yours? Who should fund any such initiative?

Krishnan: About a year and a half back, we said we are ready to push more samples into the market. However, to make this a viable service, the government can play the role of a catalyst by helping knock down custom duties on meter imports completely and help it, via partial financing of the rural panel service.

TAM is ready to work with the government and the industry body together to implement the already proposed cost effective plan.

Varma: Any such move will require investments that may well exceed those justified on the grounds of commercial viability alone.

An initiative to measure rural audiences by us can best be facilitated by the availability of appropriate levels of funds.

Doordarshan being the biggest stakeholder in this area -- atleast for now -- can take an exemplary lead in bridging the gaps.

Is there any need to revamp the current business of TV audience measurement?

Krishnan: Being a global set-up and a service provider for the industry for the last 10 years, TAM India is well placed to implement our industry's vision to measure the entire country's TV audiences in the near future.

Varma: Heightened social awareness alone necessitates the need to view the benefits of audience measurement on the wider canvass of public benefit.

If investments are made in technology that enables greater reliability in measurement, this will happen.

How would you look back at your company's performance so far?

Krishnan: All initiatives proactively undertaken by us during the last 10 years of our service have been for the benefit of the industry at large which includes advertisers, agencies and broadcasters.

We have launched several new initiatives like first among the few countries to start measurement of Digital TV (CAS, DTH) homes across the country, first to create only TV Elite Panel that measures the TV Viewing behaviour of the elite consumers, among several others.

Varma: aMap has brought in new technology, a new way of audience measurement to India, which is in line with the best in the world. Most importantly, it has brought in competition in an area where none existed.

Ashish Sinha in Mumbai