The folks at the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) deserve a Bharat Ratna. Perhaps even a Nobel Prize. They have done the unimaginable - something that I have never witnessed in my 14 years as a media entrepreneur. I am upset with the IRS guys because they have gone and proved my crab story wrong, and actually united the Indian media owners. Apparently the newly united Indian Newspaper Society (INS) is thinking of renaming itself as the United Newspapers Association of India (UNAI). IRS deserves kudos. I am thinking of throwing parties in every State to celebrate its feat. I may invite Suresh Kalmadi as chief guest and A Raja as guest of honour. I also plan to do a quiz called FO – of course, it means ‘Find Out’, an IRS special. The IRS feat has many dimensions.
They make Prime Minister Manmohan Singh look efficient, they make sure that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee comes across as sane. IRS is suddenly making sure that people do not waste their time reading newspapers and magazines, and actually do their jobs well, spend more time with family. IRS has brought our country and civilization to its goal of being a ‘Ram rajya’. We don’t need BJP anymore. IRS can take on the responsibility of building the Ram temple. Of course, it may start building a Ram temple and end up with a McDonald’s instead.
IRS folks are very creative too. Thanks to them, doctors in Kerala have stopped reading Malayala Manorama and are finally looking after patients. Listeners of Radio Mirchi are finally listening to what their spouses say. IRS has made sure that Vir Das and Papa CJ now turn their attention to us media owners, and not just make Arnab Goswami famous. In fact, Arnab is doing a special on IRS 2014 called the Unverdict - The Nation in Mourning and the Nation Already Knows. He is happy that people are no longer reading newspapers, but dedicatedly watching his show on TV. I want to warn Arnab and his ilk to watch out as IRS is also involved in BARC. The IRS findings are to be used as a base-line by BARC, and it will inflict more good on the nation. People will avoid TV and spend time with their family and friends.
Yes, I also think the folks at IRS should be given the Impact Person(s) of the Year (IPOY) Award, 2014, as they have had such an impact on the whole industry. While we announce the IPOY in December, I don’t think anyone will come even close to them in terms of impact during the year. The IRS and MRUC board is thinking of renaming IRS as ‘Instant Remorse Served’ or ‘Irreversible Rusted Survey’. We are thinking of starting a crowd-sourcing initiative for the new identity of IRS. MRUC, the Media Repressive Useless Cronies, has promised to bring out IRS every month. In fact, Cyrus Broacha will do a show every month to share IRS findings.
Sincerely, I have never seen such stray research and the strong reactions to it are to be expected. INS members have taken it up strongly and legally. The Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) has followed suit. Even advertisers who are likely to use IRS for negotiations are not convinced, and are sympathetic towards media owners. IRS was expected to do more. Even publishers like Hindustan Times and Rajasthan Patrika, who have emerged looking good - and maybe rightly so - in IRS 2014, have to evaluate the loss of credibility of the currency. If the currency itself has no value, then gains have even less value.
The cheer may be short-lived. We as an industry have to come together to restore credibility of the currency and institution. On a serious note, MRUC and IRS have done more damage to research and credibility than one can ever imagine. The argument over having a single currency for research is now crushed. I believe it is time to have multiple currencies.
In fact, TAM should get a new lease of life. Then, BARC will be more cautious about how it approaches TV ratings. Take three scenarios – One, BARC in its first research shows 50% fall in viewership; so broadcasters reject it as the TV universe is genuinely growing. Two, it shows 100% increase in viewership, so advertisers cry foul and say broadcasters have fixed it. Three, it is more or less like TAM, so what?
The IRS fiasco raises some fundamental questions. What was the MRUC board doing so far? What was the technical committee doing? Why have heads not rolled? The media asks for heads to roll whenever there is a failure in government or bureaucracy - so why are there no checks and balances here? Is IRS 2014 a case of too much promised and too little delivered, harming rather than helping? I would like to see MRUC survive as MRUC. It has done great work and we need a research body. However, lots of publishers are angry and have lost complete faith in MRUC. Still, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have to work again to restore and deliver a credible currency. MRUC should own up to its inconsistencies and non-validation of data. Maybe a new Board should be convened. Maybe better professionals should be brought in to help. We need to restore credibility with all stakeholders.
I empathize with IRS stakeholders as well as MRUC professionals, but the institution and currency are bigger than individuals. Someone responsible should take ownership and resign. In fact, we have to take a re-look at how associations perform and what roles they play. Associations have an opportunity to reinvent themselves and step in to make a difference.
As I always say, we have to look at the positives that come out of every situation. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, what are the positives from this IRS fiasco? The learnings are: first, we need good quality professionals to manage associations; second, we need more active Board and technical committee members; third, we need very regular system checks and balances; fourth, all individuals need to be humble; fifth, ensure that the TV measurement system being brought in by BARC is more careful and thorough; and sixth, maybe the I & B Minister should let TAM function as it did. I suggest the Minister should allow news channel ratings to go away over the next one year, and let GEC ratings stay.
It is a win-win in many ways. My advice to myself and other media owners is to find qualitative ways of reaching out to advertisers and demonstrate and share moments of truth with media planners and advertisers. Research and research currencies are essential as measurement means growth, accountability and hence more investments in media. We must get our act together as an industry, and put a constructive mechanism in place.