Television Audience Measurement (TAM)

Article by Arvind Jayant, a student of Advertising at Symbiosis

The birth of television was rather caesarian, not the first born, yet an equally important child of science, money and the growing society. And since that happy day when man forever learned to see himself in a device other than a mirror, he has been set on the quest to manipulate the vision of the world, create an aesthetic collage and build a sustainable market around the artsy frame of the same.
Streaming through long cables, the box and the minds of several dedicated devotees of the small screen is the constant buzz of the above mentioned art, delicately intertwined with the whisper of a market scene- the Indian market scene or better still, the Indian television industry. Studies conducted by the Television Audience Measurement (TAM) of India slammed a figure suggesting that 134 million households in India possessed television sets.

Now with a figure like that sitting on the table, comes the need to invest, to use the medium to advertise and the need to understand the social and ethnic diversity the investment reaches.  The expanse it covers is much like a large desert and to invest in it, you must know the terrain, the ups and downs, the effectiveness and the possible rate of return. Ignoring the need to know the right possibilities of investing and advertising would be like digging for coal in a gold field.
And with that need to know – Enter TAM and the world of ratings.
The Television Audience Measurement (TAM), a joint venture by Nielsen and Kantar, appointed by the Joint Industry stakeholders of ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers), IBF (Indian Broadcast Foundation) and AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India) has been the pathfinder for advertisers since its inception in 1998.  TRP’s or Television Rating Points released very frequently by the same, measured from the audience itself, leads the advertisers much  like how the pied piper led mice.
How are TRPs measured, you ask?  The answer lies in a small device with a queer name – the People Meter. These devices are placed in random homes across the country to measure the amount of time spend watching a particular show or a commercial – which decides the ratings and ultimately the fate of every broadcast.  However, as said before, People Meters come with giant loophole. The company that manufactures these meters, namely Nielsen, tells us that each of them comes at a cost of around 5000 dollars –for installation and maintenance. And owing to this, in a country with 144 million television sets, only 8150 People Meters have been installed. In short, the fortunes of advertising and investments hang in an irregular balance of misrepresentation.
The lack of representation is not the only thing plaguing the scene. TAM has not had proper industry monitoring after the unnatural death of JIB (Joint Industry Board) in 2004 and its successor BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) has been a ‘non-starter’ since 2007 when it was first suggested. This has led to a lot of bullying by big names and rolled wads of green over the issue of ratings. The NDTV suing TAM for ratings manipulation earlier this year can be recalled in this context.
Besides this, TRP has also come under attack on several occasions with the criticism that it is only efficient to deduce from a homogenous pool of data and not from such diversity. TAM does not have the in-house efficiency to measure, analyse or use such data in the most effective manner.
With criticisms aplenty, the TAM and the current method of ratings analysis are now being chased into a back alley where it’ll be forced to succumb to a not-so-poetic epitaph or pull up with a last minute shift of technique.
As the dust stirred up by the agency’s loss of footing slowly settles down, one can perhaps see a solution in the government’s call to eliminate intermediary cable operators and install Digital Set-top Boxes in all major cities. With a little bit of cooperation and the implementation of proper technique, one can replace the outdated equipment of people meters with a string of data flowing back from the set top boxes, complete with detailed information about viewing preferences.
The Direct-to-Home (DTH) system eliminates the need for a local cable operator, as each household will have its on independent receiver. Forbes India suggests that a lot of corruption occurs at the level of local cable operators and elimination of these intermediaries will hence give the agency more muscle.
If the DTH systems are indeed implemented properly in the context of TRP’s, the TAM can perhaps look forward to a note of thank you from the big fishes of the broadcasting industry who will be swimming in clearer waters. The advertisers will have their compasses calibrated properly and channels will receive the investment they deserve rather than the one they claim to deserve.

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