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Broadcasters, advertisers talk about life without ratings
MUMBAI: The TV broadcast sector is bracing itself for a ratings dark period since the incumbent audience measurement agency TAM Media Research is most likely to fall short of the new requirements mandated by the government for TV rating agencies.
The only way for TAM to avoid this situation is if it manages to rejig its ownership structure to fall in line with the cross-media restriction prescribed in the guidelines. But this is an impossible task, particularly because the time frame of 30 days is too short for such an exercise.
Therefore, TAM can only salvage the situation for itself and for the industry by taking legal recourse and getting a stay order from the High Court.
Even as TAM weighs its options, the industry has already started thinking about life without TAM ratings. The industry body led by the Broadcast Audience Research Measurement (BARC) is expected to report data only from the end of September and early October. That is still some time away, but in the interim the industry will have no ratings at its disposal to trade inventory.
So, how will the industry function in a scenario where there are no ratings? How will advertisers buy inventory on TV channels? What happens to the existing deals that are already under effect? Will ad budgets shift to other mediums till there is a functional audience measurement system?
These are some of the questions that TelevisionPost.com posed to industry leaders. While there are no clear-cut answers, some definitive solutions did emerge. One thing is clear—the absence of a rating currency will lead to turmoil in the industry.
“It’s not the best situation to be in but in the short term, we can easily manage without ratings. The data from the last four to eight weeks should be able to guide us through in the short term, say for 2–3 months,” says Gupta.
It’s just a matter of another 3–4 months that the industry has to function without ratings, says Gupta. “But yes, beyond a point, it will become difficult to function without ratings, say for 3–4 months, till BARC starts functioning. The industry will have to figure out how we can carry on for the remaining 3–4 months without ratings,” he adds.
Havas Media India and South Asia CEO Anita Nayyar feels that the industry will get destabilised in the absence of any ratings. “If ratings don’t come for 5–6 months, then everything will go haywire. We will not know which media plan gets delivered. After all, something is better than nothing,” says Nayyar.
“Last year, there was a ratings stand-off for about six to eight weeks but the agencies worked. It’s not as if the advertisers did not go aboard with advertising. But they took safer bets on shows and programmes that are known to do well like tent pole shows on GECs, cricket, movie premieres and award shows. Ratings are one thing but there was also a lot of gut feeling which the media people used to work with when there were no ratings,” Nayyar expounds.
She is quick to admit that ratings are indeed a necessity particularly for new shows. “It’s very difficult to do media plans on the assumption that this particular programme will give you an X rating. One indeed needs a currency,” Nayyar admits.
Colors CEO Raj Nayak adds, “From a broadcaster’s point of view, any kind of blackout is not good for the industry. It can seriously impact advertising revenues, especially for live sports, new launches and high value non- fiction properties. In any kind of change, there must be a smooth transition.”
Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) chairman Arvind Sharma is of the opinion that absence of TV ratings will hurt the industry in general and the broadcasters in particular.
“The ratings blackout would be a disincentive for channels that are investing in high-quality content. Why would I as an advertiser invest if programme ratings cannot be measured? As an advertiser, I would not invest in big programming if there are no ratings. So, it is bad from the point of view of broadcasters as well as advertisers,” Sharma opines.
Star India’s Gupta doesn’t see any issue with existing deals. “The deals for existing shows shouldn’t be a problem as the ratings don’t change to a great extent. For new shows, we [advertisers and broadcasters] need to have a bilateral discussion. The deals for new shows will have to be done based on assumption and the quality of the show. Qualitative analysis and viewer feedback will also play a role to some extent. I know it will not be adequate, but then what are the other options that we have?” Gupta explains.
Sharma also contends that ad monies will shift to digital medium if the current impasse is not resolved. “If there are no ratings, it will hurt television media as the whole economic situation is bleak. Other platforms like digital might gain if this kind of uncertainty continues. Digital, which has been growing at 30 per cent annually, will gain as measurement is not an issue there,” Sharma asserts.
Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Mallikarjun Das points out that no medium can replace the other and advertisers will continue to use television to create demand. He, however, admits that not having ratings will give rise to serious accountability issues.
“In that scenario, advertisers would want to play safe as the economy is not in the pink of its health. Advertisers will find it rather easy to postpone spends or divert some of it to other mediums. All of it, though, cannot be diverted as no medium can fully substitute the other,” he explains.
AXN India business head Sunil Punjabi believes that there will be no significant shift from television to other media. “I don’t think that advertising spend will shift to other media. TV is high on communication impact and it cannot be replaced in the media plan. TV reach is something which you will never be able to get from other media. I don’t think online can give you that for another 2–3 years,” he asserts.
Nevertheless, Sharma says the industry is trying to come to a middle ground before the issue spirals out of control. He is hopeful of having some clarity by the end of next week.
“We are putting our heads together to deal with this situation. We are engaging with all the constituents to figure out how we can move forward in the event there are no ratings. At the moment, everyone is concerned. Hopefully, by the end of next week, we should have some clarity on the way forward,” says an optimistic Sharma.
Madison Media COO Crest Karthik Laxminarayan feels that not having ratings is a double-edged sword which will harm both advertisers and broadcasters in equal measure. “As advertising is demand-supply led, the large-scale events and big-ticket properties may have to cut their losses if demand slackens. However, on the flip side, if the demand increases, broadcasters won’t be able to demand their rates,” he says, with emphasis.
Punjabi feels that niche channels will have no problems in doing advertising deals as there is not much variation in ratings. “I think niche channels will still be easier to trade rather than GECs or other mass genres. This is because you don’t get a lot of variations or spikes and changing in positions on a week-on-week basis in niche. It happens slowly and gradually. For mass genres, negotiations will not have any benchmarks and they will have to trade on the big properties only,” he says.
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