In this changing media scenario, advertisers, media, and other participants in the television advertising industry are requesting more accurate data. With the shift of television from TV screens to multiple digital platforms, it has become important to reconsider and restructure the television audience measurement in India. Reforms should be made to systematically resolve the industry’s concerns regarding sample size, methodology, data and accuracy. Recommendations have been made by various studies on television audience measurement in India. One of the significant reports on the television audience measurement by TRAI titled “Recommendations on Review of Television Audience Measurement and Rating System in India”, has suggested steps for reforming the television audience measurement. The report suggests structural changes in the audience measurement rating system in India by increasing the representation of all stakeholders equally. Moreover, the report recommends increasing the sample size of audience measurement and bringing accuracy to the measurement system.
The solution to the television audience measurement system in India lies in a “threefold diagnostic strategy” which includes ‘structural changes’ in audience measurement agency, bringing ‘technological solutions’, and ‘diagnosis of existing problems’. Structural reforms will mean including multiple agencies in audience measurement, ending the monopoly of the existing rating agency. Moreover, structural reforms will also entail reforms in the existing agency, increasing transparency in the system and increasing the representation of stakeholders. Secondly, technological solutions will be required to overcome the limitations of the audience measurement system in India.
Technological solutions such as Return Path Data (RPD), increasing accuracy and decreasing price of meters, integration of data and moving from Television screens to digital platforms to measure the viewership are required in the industry. Lastly, it is important to diagnose existing problems in the audience measurement such as increasing sample size, methodological reforms and solutions to landing page issues. Thus, it is imperative to bring a threefold diagnostic strategy to increase the efficiency and acceptability of audience measurement in India.
One of the biggest reasons that has accelerated the requirement of reforms is the digitalisation of television content consumption. Digitalisation and expansion of the television industry to digital platforms have brought new challenges. With the changing landscape of the television industry, there is an urgent need to bring new technological solutions to these challenges. One of the biggest challenges to television audience measurement in India is its inability to expand its horizon from television screens to other platforms such as mobile and laptops. The television audience data holds utmost importance to drive advertisement revenue; hence industry needs urgent reforms to get accurate data to measure and analyse the ever-evolving pattern of viewership in India. Thus, the television viewership rating should consist of viewership data from both television and other digital platforms to provide an accurate picture to the industry and advertisers.
There is an immediate need to either complement a system with RPD (Return Path Data) or establish an independent RPD-based currency to ensure that the system can deliver accurate estimates for smaller channels and decrease the impact of manipulated households on overall ratings. RPD is a cost-effective solution for a market that reduces the fear factor of households while installing separate meters and transforms every set-top box (STB) into a barometer. Moreover, the Return Path Data (RPD)-enabled set-top boxes are a low-cost option for significantly expanding the sample size. As it collects viewership data from a large number of panel homes, it transports this information electronically to the servers, making it a more practical and cost-effective collection approach. This necessitates the production of hybrid STBs that are capable of transmitting viewership data by establishing a path/connection between the STB and the distant servers of the television audience measurement agency. Lastly, Return Path Data (RPD) will enable huge sample sizes in a cost-effective manner, hence reducing the likelihood of data tampering. However, the installation of devices in such panel homes requires anonymizing the individual’s information in order to protect the individual’s privacy. Additionally, the transfer of viewing data electronically from the panel to the servers must only occur with the individuals’ authorization. If the individual objects to the sharing of viewing data, his or her objection should be observed, and no data should be collected from his or her residence.
Additionally, digitalisation has diversified sources of watching television content from television screens to digital platforms. The integration of data from multiple sources appears to be a highly intriguing method for measuring cross-platform television viewership. A single-method strategy is insufficient to understand the complexity of the media landscape. It is vital to combine the data collected by several sources in order to provide a comprehensive picture of actual watching behaviour. Due to the significant fall in response rate, it is impossible to obtain a great deal of data for each individual. Return-path data or smartphone applications could be a viable approach for gathering data for integration into other studies. Mobile technologies promote passive data collection, but researchers must be clear about the obtained information. Furthermore, survey data is required in order to get demographic information and to work with representative samples, as opposed to merely large numbers. Lastly, the technique must be auditable and transparent for all parties to accept it. It is vital to construct a currency that is acceptable to all stakeholders.
Henceforward, to adapt to the changing scenario in the broadcasting industry and to increase the accuracy and acceptability of the television rating system requires a multitudinous reforms strategy with a complex intersection of structural reforms, technological adaptation and solving existing problems.
(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India and Lecturer, Stanford University. Akshay Bhambri is Research Manager, Institute for Competitiveness, India and Doctoral Fellow at Harvard-Yenching Institute).