The questions raised over the viewership numbers provided by market research agency TAM, following the recent spat between broadcaster NDTV and Nielsen, have left advertisers worried.
NDTV had recently accused Nielsen, besides its affiliates TAM and Kantar, of fudging viewership data in favour of other networks.
However, even as advertisers remain concerned, many concede there is no choice but to depend on TAM numbers - for want of a viable alternative.
"For a pilot, having a map and radar is critical for a safe and successful flight. Similarly, for a marketer, viewership data is critical for taking the right and optimal media decisions. Flying in the dark without a map or radar is a dangerous thought. So, till we get a source and data that all are convinced about, we have to do with the only currency available," says Aditya Birla Group Chief Marketing Officer (Financial Services) Ajay Kakkar.
Dabur's senior executive director, Devendra Garg, in charge of marketing at the Noida-based FMCG company, says a viewership currency is a must. "Whether TAM or any other source, you can't do without viewership data. Your decision to invest, or otherwise, has to be based on something," he says. This is also endorsed by executives of Samsung and Coca-Cola, both key advertisers.
"We depend on our media agency's recommendations, which they make on the basis of their assessment of viewership data," a Samsung spokesperson says. "Viewership data is definitely a great help," says a Coke official.
Advertisers such as Amul are beginning to base their decisions on internal assessment of what works and what doesn't. Executives say this is done mostly when investing in niche TV properties or targeting regional channels. "Sometimes local opinions count," says Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Managing Director R S Sodhi. However, they do not rule out the importance of viewership ratings. "We still depend on viewership numbers for most of our TV investment activities," Sodhi adds.
Of the Rs 30,000 crore spent on advertising in India, 42-43 per cent goes into television alone. So, the stakes are clearly high, say market experts.
Television is the best way to reach a mass audience and, so, viewership data cannot be ignored, say advertisers.
"While a Nielsen can be the sole concessionaire, there should be joint ownership of such research by an industry body," says LG Electronics Chief Marketing Officer L K Gupta. "Top spenders and leaders from brand and ad agencies should be running the show as an executive board. Third-party auditing, transparency and accountability are an absolute must," he adds.
TAM had found itself in the eye of a storm 10 years ago, when the information on households where its peoplemeters were installed was leaked. Following this, a rival viewership measurement study, aMap, was born. But, despite providing viewership data the very next day, unlike TAM, which provides data after a few days, there was lack of consensus with regard to aMap data, according to media planners. "That was the key reason why aMap's subscription base dwindled and its operations were eventually halted," says a Mumbai-based media planner, who does not want to be named as the matter is sensitive.
TAM has frequently said running peoplemeters is an expensive operation and requires significant investment. As things stand today, TAM has 8,150 installed peoplemeters in India - the largest base in the world. The plan is to take the number to 10,000 by next year.