Friday it was. The top TV news channels were offering prayers. Some offered it for a favourable TRP, whereas others for the position number one. Lucky that week was India TV-hitherto perceived as the Manohar Kahanian of Indian news channels among literati. The TRP that fateful Friday shattered the habitual perception of invincibility of sabse tej news channel, overtaken as it was in its weekly race for number one. The villain-de-piece was TV rating points (TRP) for its umpire’s role. Luck kissing story for the new king channel was Arushi’s murder case.
The old king Aaj Tak was ironically cursing the same system, which helped facilitate its empire building through ads collection all these years. It chose to hit back when stung by an adverse rating. It questioned TV rating methodology, its sampling, its representative character and what have you. Understandably, no one took these arguments seriously because they originated out of an interested party.
While it may be a conventional wisdom to dismiss Aaj Tak’s story on TRP as motivated, prudence demands that you and I resist from throwing the baby with the bath water. Because the source of the story may be ridden with hidden agenda, for long the issues it raised have refused to get buried.
Overlooking the acrimony between India TV and Aaj Tak for Kaun Banega Number One, we may now take a dive into mysterious waters of TRP to probe the issue a little more. What is TRP? How does TRP make sense? Who makes TRP work? How sacrosanct or full proof is its method? Is it free from class, urban and regional bias?
Difficult questions out of these are indisputably the last two for they involve a value judgment having a potential bearing on the 4860 crore of share of the advertisement industry. The answers to first three questions are fact based rather then value oriented and hence not fraught with as much danger. Let us therefore move from simple to complex issues in sequence.
What is TRP?
TRP is TV viewership rating points given every Friday to the channels by TV Audience Measurement (TAM) media research. Such points are based on the actual channel viewing by the TV viewers and are recorded through the 5500 PeopleMetre instruments mounted on cable-TV homes across more than 75 cabled-towns in India. That means the instrument is able to digitally record as to which particular channel is being viewed at a particular point of time and for how long in such TV homes. In TRP measurement, content plays the decisive role in defining success, but equally important these days are distribution, marketing, environmental changes (power supply, natural calamities etc.) and viewership fragmentation. In other words, TRP is a function of time spent and reach. While time spent is largely related to content, reach (or eyeballs) is fallout of marketing (on-air and off-air) and distribution.
How does TRP make sense?
TRP forms the main basis of ad spending for the advertisers who are desperate to reach out to their target audience. TRP contributes a great deal to the determination of both advertisement rates and frequency of advertisement orders and considered a necessary evil causing life or death blows for many TV shows. It makes sense to the advertiser community who wants to ensure that the 4860 crore rupees it puts in are well spent.
Who makes TRP work?
A joint industry body (JIB) called Television Audience Measurement (TAM) research makes TRP work. TAM is conducted in 5500 people metered cable homes in more than 75 class I towns (towns with population more than 1,00,000) around the country amidst 84 million TV homes. It costs more than Rs 20 crore presently to deliver annually. Media planning and buying agencies make use of this research to recommend and place advertising time on TV networks.
Having swum the serene let me navigate you through the turbulent parts of the TRP water. First question first:
How sacrosanct and full proof is TRP method?
Sceptics doubt TRP measurement being either sacrosanct or full proof. The big question is, ask skeptics, who pays for this rating service? Internationally, the industry funds the system to the tune of 90 percent. But in India, the giant Rs 12,000-crore industry does not rummage up even 1 percent of its earnings for the well researched service. Major funding comes from media buying agencies.
The second issue raised by the skeptics is whether the sample-spread represent all sections of TV viewers according to income levels? Is it not true that as much as 60 percent of India is left out of TRP coverage? After all, 5500 sampled homes to represent 84 million TV homes are quite inadequate. The sad truth is that the 62 percent of the homes not captured also account for 64 percent of the TV viewing time. This means that that the JIB has funded TAM currently to measure only a third of all the TV viewed in the country.
Further, there are charges of inability of TAM to address changes in distribution platforms like CAS, DTH, broadband or the Internet, lack of external auditing, specific-interest or niche channels not recorded adequately, out-of-home viewership not metered, special events not covered etc. In such a scenario, any advertiser would wonder whether Rs 3,000 crore worth of TV advertising may not be actually going to the right people.
Here comes the last and the crucial question:
Is the TRP free from bias?
Class and urban bias of the TRP is too obvious to be explained. All these PeopleMetres for measuring viewers are installed in the cable-homes only at present and hence they do not cover the terrestrial TV homes in the country. Nor do they cover the rapidly growing DTH TV homes in the country. These terrestrial TV network cover a vast population of rural and moffusil India, which have no cable connections. These vast portions of India do consume a number of consumer household products. Products like tooth-paste, soap, washing powder, hair-oil, pressure-cooker, motor-cycles, tractors and agricultural appliances, to name a few, reach the remotest parts of India today. Any discerning advertiser does keep this in mind while making its media-plan and while choosing its media wheel to reach out to its consumers. Whether to choose satellite-cables or terrestrial TV network as media-wheel or both depends on the product being high-end or low-end.
DTH platform similarly is spreading its wings rapidly to outlying and far-flung territories of India like in North-East or J & K, Himachal, Uttaranchal, border areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat where there are neither cable laid nor PeopleMeters installed. Recent reports suggest massive acceptance of DTH connections in the armed forces in these areas. Hence, you have viewers in these areas as also consumer of low-end products. The class and urban bias of the TRP measurements therefore is too evident in that, taken together, this majority part of rural-mofussil-outlying India remains uncovered by the TRP measurements. And this constitutes more than 60 percent.
The regional bias of the TRP measurement also needs detailed analysis. The exact data on the regional distribution and location of the installation of PeopleMeter seems to have been kept as a closely guarded secret by the JIB, yet reports are that the very important media-consuming Hindi-speaking states like Bihar and eastern UP have quite inadequate share of installation of PeopleMeters. Any keen media observer would know today about the importance of not only the head-count of viewers in Bihar and eastern-UP, but also their quality participation in media affairs. Ironical though it may seem, these states are bereft of the opportunity to be even counted by the TAM. After Dainik Jagran launched its news channel, it realized soon that it might have unmatchable viewership because of journalistic legacy in Hindi heartland and its grassroots reach, but not the ratings. The reason: TAM is just not geared up to measure viewing in the places where you are most likely to get viewed – major parts of the Hindi heartland.
JIB should realize after all that hiding of the true picture of viewership leads to lose-lose situation for them for two reasons: one that it creates doubts about its credibility and two, more viewership not necessarily brings more advertising revenue
Capping it up, you need to understand clearly today that in India, TV ratings are not equal to TV viewership. The surgical solution lies in the bold initiatives of the TV industry itself, both in terms of investment and credibility enhancement. Investment in terms of buying more and more of PeopleMeters commensurate to the growth of TV ownership is the first step. Credibility enhancement exercise involves two measures: one, distribute the installation of these instruments across the states on the basis of number of TV homes rather than on advertisement-churning capacity of pockets of a state. Two, statutorily declare clearly from time to time that the ratings of TAM are of cable-town in selected states of India and that they do not represent viewership of terrestrial or DTH network. Till it does so, the echo of foul play would continue to haunt.
(Uday Sahay heads the Directorate of Information and Publicity of Delhi Government. He can be contacted at: www.udaysahay.com)