BY L K GUPTA
The recent lawsuit brought by NDTV against Nielsen, Kantar and TAM opens up yet again questions on quality and veracity of media data in India. For me, this familiar issue is not about one TV channel and a research company, but about all syndicated research that marketers use to make multi-billion dollar decisions. That is the big concern that industry should be addressing, not whether NDTV should be granted those hundreds of millions in compensation or who indeed is the #1 news channel.
TAM, just like Nielsen’s FMCG retail audit research and GfK’s consumer durables retail track (all based on continuous data collection from panels) is a monopoly in its field. Typically, besides getting a top level look at methodology, sample sizes and cities covered, marketers and agencies never get to see what goes on behind the lead curtain in the black box of these studies. And for good reason too, for you don’t want to contaminate the data with buyers getting a look into the panel.
The flip side to this is that the industry is left at the mercy of varying degrees of competence in these research agencies, or even malpractices at field level or higher. I’m not suggesting that these agencies really are corrupt as NDTV claims, but to leave the running of such research solely in the hands of one agency is at best foolish, and at worst business hara kiri. Clients spend hundreds of crores of rupees by using TAM to optimize their media plans, and multiple crores per category report to analyse market movements and plan their strategies with respect to product, pricing and distribution. Careers and financial performances can be made or unmade based on decisions coming out of these data. In this regard, debating whether NDTV is the #1 TV channel or how much revenue it lost due to malfeasance is to trivialize the much larger issue.
Whatever comes out of the NDTV-TAM saga, some concerted steps are sorely needed so that marketers and agencies sleep better.
We need to manage the monopolies. While a Nielsen or a GfK can be the “sole concessionaire” in running the studies, there should be joint ownership of such research by an industry body such as MRSI and/or MRUC. Top spenders and leaders from brand and ad agencies should be running the show as an executive board.
Once a joint ownership is agreed, all such consumer and retail panels should be reviewed stringently and remedial measures should be installed with full transparency to the board. Decisions of the board should be binding on all industry players, whether clients or channels or media agencies. Additional cost, if any, can be distributed equitably across all advertisers, say a 0.1% increase in agency commission.
Whatever the ownership model, third party auditing should be instituted, which should get full cooperation of the research company. This should be at least a bi-annual affair. The cost of such an audit can easily be borne via contributions from top 50 advertisers and their media agencies. I don’t think clients who spend hundreds of crores on advertising should shy away from a few lakhs annually to validate their data.
If the buyer of the data can clearly see that the data is misleading or not representative of market reality, they should be able to deduct payment from the agency’s fee. Currently, the onus seems to lie on the buyer to prove to the research company that their data is wrong. This is the classic case of monopolistic power, and I have personally grappled with it on many an occasion. Especially with research agencies, there is huge resistance to joint field visits to examine the panel. On the other hand, the client is expected to provide their confidential sales data so that the research agency can scrutinize it (as if they’re an auditor), and then pronounce that their panel findings were right after all. Statistical gobbledygook is frequently used to gloss over real problems.
Common currency for new media
Spending will shift from conventional media to digital media. It’s already happening. But we still don’t have standard, robust measurements for internet media and DTH homes. Industry bodies must lead the way in developing common acceptable standards for all stakeholders. Google sells inventory on YouTube based on its own measurement of audiences and proclaiming it to be among top 10 TV channels. But you have to coax and cajole data out of them to make really educated choices. If advertisers are expected to shift spending from conventional TV to online videos, a common standard of measurement needs to be available to see what delivery the brand lost from conventional TV media, and how it covered that through online video advertising.
Finally, let us accept that every panel will have its shortcomings, and these need to be listed down openly so that advertisers know what they’re getting for their money. For instance, let TAM clearly state that their data cannot well represent SEC A and A+ consumers. After all, how many among SEC A+ will allow Peoplemeters into their homes or even into their gated compounds? As a result, niche channels will always be under-reported. Let us not expect solid SEC A viewership data, and let us accept that judgement will have to be used when you’re targeting the top 1-5% consumers of the country.
On a related note, I must say I am deeply disappointed with many prominent business publications like the Economic Times for not getting deeper into the reporting of this NDTV fracas. This is a matter of billions of dollars every year across all companies, and probably more important than sensational cases like one company’s Rs 800 crore fraud, which regularly made front page headlines recently! It would be a shame if the NDTV-TAM case whimpers to a tame ending without any substantial gains coming to the wider body of advertisers and marketers in the country.
The author is CMO,LG Electronics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Lk_Gupta
MEANWHILE, TAM CONVERSATIONS GO ON
As the industry looks to understand the veracity behind some of NDTV’s allegations...
By NOOR FATHIMA WARSIA
The Indian advertising industry has initiated conversations with TAM Media Research to get TAM’s perspective behind the allegations that have come through in NDTV’s lawsuit, filed on July 26, 2012 in the New York State Court, against Nielsen, Kantar and TAM Media Research.
Most industry leaders were still absorbing the issue last week, when it had first surfaced. Some officials presented their comment on the subject as well. But the one thought that is surfacing in conversations now is that most television plans were based on data from TAM Media Research and businesses were built on the back of this data. “The data has to be right to achieve this. If the data was not making sense, then it would have reflected in many of the industry exercises and papers that have been developed using trends from TAM data,” said the head of a leading media agency.
The lawsuit had created an uproar in the Indian media and advertising industry, following which the advertisers and agencies have set up a meeting to discuss the issue, where TAM Media Research officials will also be present. A panel comprising members of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) would be attending this meeting, which has been scheduled for August 16, 2012.
Arvind Sharma, President, AAAI says, “We are deeply concerned with what has been reported on this subject. But we would like to hear the complete details from the body in question itself instead of going by what has been reported in the press.”
Citing that this was a matter sub judice, no further comments were available from any of the organizations. Sources close to the development, however, informed that the AAAI-ISA meeting is part of the industry’s exercise to understand the issue better and decide on the next steps in context to the allegations against TAM.
A senior industry resource said, “TAM Media Research’s top management has dealt with this industry with integrity in the past. And while NDTV has cast some serious aspersions on TAM, there is a need to understand this better – the question, after all, is of a key measurement metric of the industry.”
The progress on the court case is not heard yet, but sources believe that next week should see some news in terms of the next course of action. But in the coming weeks, one can be sure that many more clarifications and questions will come through, as the dust settles around the lawsuit.