About time. Competition forces tam to go rural and correct its flaws

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By Sanu Nair

COMPETITION IS finally forcing Television Audience Measurement (TAM), the agency that tracks Indian viewing habits, to become more representative. Until last year, for instance, TAM hadn’t installed a single ‘peoplemeter’ in either Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, the country’s two most populous states. But now it proposes to add 4,000 more of these devices, which measure the time spent on a television set viewing individual channels, to cover rural homes as well. Currently, all its 8,000 peoplemeters are focussed on five major metros, measuring the performance of 500-odd television channels in the country.

Media planners, advertisers, and particularly public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, which manages All India Radio and Doordarshan, have been complaining that TAM data has passed over the seven million TV viewers in the hinterlands that have no access to cable, satellite or direct to home (DTH) services. And of the 134 million Indian households with television sets, nearly 70 million are believed to be in rural areas, where Doordarshan has a near-monopoly.

Till just two years ago TAM was the only agency offering these services. But then a rival agency, Audience Map (aMap), with reportedly 2,000 peoplemeters, also began providing viewership data to media planners and brand managers. And last month, the Advertising Agencies Association of India and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) floated one more — the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Soon there could be a third one as well, courtesy the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Says Punitha Arumugam, chief executive officer, Madison Media Group: “The TAM sample was always ridiculously low. Increased competition will make the measurement system better.” Peoplemeters have so far had to be imported, which may have been the reason why neither TAM nor aMap has been able to expand capacity.

According to a FICCI-KPMG study, the Rs.9,000 crore-Indian television advertising industry grew by 6.8 percent in 2009 and is projected to post a compound annual growth rate of 15.5 percent to transact business worth over Rs.53,500 crore by 2014. And the major driver for this growth is going to be the rural market.

Agrees Manas Mishra, executive vice president of Mudra Connext, a media buying agency: “Brands are routinely pumping in millions of rupees on television advertising. They deserve a clearer picture on who is watching what.”

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