It’s the season for media biographies, as NDTV and TV18 publish their life stories. If NDTV comes across as self-righteous TV18 is open about its sins of commission.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Monday, August 3, 2015
Nalin Mehta (Harper Collins India, New Delhi April 2015, 312 pages)Behind a Billion Screens,
Nalin Mehta has been an academician and a journalist. This book has been researched by the academician and written by the journalist.
The academician is most evident in the extensive, painstaking annotation: 53 pages of end notes to support 221 pages of text. The early account of the ills that plague news television is sound, balanced and pragmatic, and later in the book Mehta presents an excellent historical perspective of broadcast regulation in India, right up to the present day. The detailed exposition of self-regulation is also well-informed and instructive, and makes a good and valid comparison of the functioning of the two bodies, the News Broadcast Standards Authority for news and the Broadcast Content Complaints Council for entertainment. For all this the book is a must for anyone concerned with -- and about -- the management of television broadcasting in India.
But the journalist in Mehta is irrepressible, and dominates the discourse. That would be no issue, if this were not a journalist with an agenda, characterised by sweeping statements, sometimes bordering on the irresponsible; specious use of data; and ignoring inconvenient facts to make a point. The 10-page introduction by Uday Shankar, CEO of Star TV, sets the tone: the book goes on to represent Star TV’s world view, with Shankar extensively quoted and frequently referred to throughout, and numerous examples cited of Star’s bold, innovative, far-sighted moves worthy of a leader.
Speaking of news TV ownership and describing in some detail how Zee built its news network, on the other hand, he comments that, “Zee’s business moves were not ideological.” That may well be true, but not a mention is made of the origins of Star News – the sweetheart deal with NDTV and the split; the attempt to structure a company with Vir Sanghvi, Suhel Seth, et al; how it ended up with ABP; and how Star News became ABP News, whereby hangs a tale.
The author is at pains to establish that the big TV networks are not as big as we might think, and asserts that they are disadvantaged with respect to buyers of advertising time. “70% of all media expenditure in India is controlled by only five media groups…. On the sellers’ side, however, fragmentation rules. There are more than 800 TV channels….” The numbers hide more than they reveal, as is often the case. What we are not told is that the Big 5 are present and strong across all genres of TV, and bundle their weak properties with the strong ones (and why shouldn’t they?), so that ultimately the two sides, buyers and sellers, are ranged across the table as countervailing forces. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the point is that the big networks are quite well, thank you very much: it’s the long tail of hundreds of small and stand-alone broadcasters that continues to writhe in agony.
On the subject of distribution, and of digitisation, Mehta seems confused. Citing unattributed data, he says that in the period 2005-11 distribution costs more than tripled but subscription revenue barely increased, with the result that “the net money that channels made from subscriptions in this period actually reduced by almost half”. That’s amusing, because it means broadcasters were, or are, net earners from subscription. Here are the facts.
Of 832 ‘permitted’ satellite channels in the country some 250 are pay channels. The rest, being free-to-air, only pay carriage fees: they earn no subscription revenue. Of the 250 that do, about 140 belong, directly or indirectly, to the Big 5 networks, and they (fewer than 20% of the total) are the ones who are net earners from subscription. For the rest subscription revenue only subsidises their distribution cost. Not much for the big boys to complain about.
One of the reasons why the big networks are net earners is of course that they own properties no cable operator can afford not to carry. The other is that they themselves have distribution interests: each of them owns and influences, directly or indirectly, every link in the distribution value chain: content aggregators; multi-system operators (MSOs); local cable operators (LCOs); and DTH platforms. And Reliance, which now owns the TV 18 network, will soon own a national 4G network. Oddly, Mehta omits to mention that. On the contrary, he laments that broadcasters are not allowed to handle distribution. That may well be the law, but surely Mehta knows the reality. So why does he try to make the case for distribution?
Mehta’s use of data is often suspect. Trying to establish the rapid growth of the Internet, for example, he says, "In 2013 Internet access in India overtook print to become the second-largest sub-media sector in revenue after television." Later he decribes how one brand, Parle Hippo, used Twitter, to show how “social media is upending the way marketing was traditionally done”.
First, in comparing internet access to print he is comparing apples to oranges, which you don’t expect of one with his background. Internet access refers to the money people pay to service providers to get on to the internet: that's not revenue for content providers, and there is no equivalent of it in print. In advertising revenue, however, which can be compared, the PwC report of 2014 (which he cites to make his point) estimates Internet at Rs 29 billion and print at Rs 146 billion.
Second, having said how big the internet has become and that social media is upending the old ways of doing things, he says in a later chapter that, “Internet penetration in the world’s largest democracy remains abysmally low,” and quotes data from the same PwC report to make the point.
Mehta's strongest invective is directed at TAM. (Disclosure: this reviewer is a member of the TAM Transparency Panel.) 8 or 10 pages of a one-sided view are peppered with loose statements like, "The trouble is that the ratings system in India has been terribly flawed for too long”; “The ratings system is so discredited that no one believes it”; and, "Senior broadcasters whisper darkly about WPP, which owns 50% of TAM, also owning a significant number of advertising agencies," betraying his bias.
Listing the issues with TAM, he describes how some years ago 500 journalists were covering the Lakmé India Fashion Week in Delhi even as there was a spate of farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. How that is the fault is the ratings provider is not evident. Among the limitations he lists is that, “In a world where an average TV consumer in a big metro spends over three hours daily on her smartphone, the ratings don’t provide a measure of what is happening in the digital space.” Where in the world do TV ratings do that?
Speaking of digitisation, the author says that no other country’s market has shifted to digital so fast. In terms of adoption of the technology, that is no doubt true; but in terms of the consumer benefiting from digitisation, certainly not. Digitisation is not merely about getting a sharper picture: until consumers are able to choose what they want to watch, and pay only for that, there is in effect no difference between digital and analogue cable. Local cable operators (LCOs) stand to be the big losers, which is why they have been stalling the change and continue to, and it is their intransigence that has prompted the government to postpone the next phase of digitisation to the end of 2015. It’s curious that Mehta skips lightly over this situation and pronounces satisfaction with its progress. Is it perhaps because big broadcasters too stand to lose from digitisation and don’t want to see it progress any further? This is one subject on which broadcasters and LCOs have the same agenda.
The work he has put into the book is evident and commendable. Between his earlier India on Television and the present book Mehta probably knows far more than anyone else about Indian television today. Regrettably the evident inconsistencies and biases call the book into question despite its merits.
Published in The Hoot (www.thehoot.org) on 27th July 2015
Published in The Hoot (www.thehoot.org) on 27th July 2015
Monday, July 6, 2015
The stark contrast was apparent as soon as the Lok Sabha election results came in and the BJP got into government formation mode. Journalists long used to being in you-heard-it-here-first mode had, strangely, nothing to report. “No leaks” was the lament.
Then on his first international trip, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dumped the customary media contingent and took only journalists from Doordarshan and a news agency to Japan. He held no press conferences, choosing to bypass the mainstream media and reach the people directly through social media. For a year now, journalists have complained that their access to the government is limited. So complete has the blockade been that the Editors’ Guild of India issued a statement reflecting its helplessness and chagrin.
In the absence of anything but controlled information, though, the Press is happily following the PR script. They faithfully and uncritically report and repeat catch-phrases (“Less government, more governance”; “There is only one holy book: the Constitution of India”); and breathlessly build up the big orchestrated events, starting with the rock concert at Madison Square Garden. So far, so good. There is a word for what the Editors’ Guild described as a “top-down, one-way interaction” with the media: propaganda. The question is, how far will this propaganda approach work?
Having a majority in Parliament gives the illusion that the majority of the country wants you. But its winning 52% of the seats does not mean 52% of voters wanted the BJP. In fact its 31% vote-share was the lowest ever for a majority party, the previous being 41% for the Congress in 1967, when it too won 52% of seats. Further, it is not that all 31% actually prefer the BJP. The people who vote for you are of two types: ‘base’ and ‘swing’ voters. Base voters are your loyalists; swing voters are those who are undecided, perhaps right up until they cast their vote. They voted for you, but they are not convinced. As in marketing anything, you must ring-fence your loyalists and woo potential switchers. In politics, that means converting the swing voters between now and the next election. And as any student of communications must know, it’s not only what you say: at least as much, it’s how you say it.
Brendan Nyhan, of Dartmouth College has been running experiments to answer a simple question: do facts matter to voters? And the simple answer is, no. Our political judgments are immune to facts that contradict us. Worse, throwing ‘facts’ at people only makes them cling more tenaciously to their beliefs. Anup Kumar, an academic who studies the relationship between media and politics, says in a piece in The Hoot, “… media and politics feed into each other but in the absence of politics on the ground a media campaign alone will not change outcomes. … it is the ground campaign … that comes first.”
And why is that relevant here? Because 10 months after the Lok Sabha election, in which it won all seven seats in Delhi – from none in 2009 – the BJP was routed in the Delhi assembly elections, winning just 3 seats of 70 – from 31 in 2009 – while the Aam Aadmi Party won 67. BJP campaign strategists had come to believe in the myth of the power of a media blitzkrieg at the cost of ignoring the success of an effective ground campaign of the kind they waged in 2014. In the social media too “AAP had more engaged interactions … which encouraged open deliberation, while the BJP had more of a bandwagon approach – follow the great leader.” That approach may show apparent results, but ‘likes’ and followers are routinely bought.
The BJP’s social media skills were tested when Modi engaged with a Chinese audience on Weibo. “The move may have worked for Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, but it didn’t work for Modi,” says Fortune. He wanted to talk about the Buddha’s birthday and a new era of Asian harmony, but the Chinese public “went straight for the jugular, with thousands of ordinary citizens taking Modi to task over territorial claims,” Fortune reports.
For all the media volume it has occupied over the last year and more, how effective, then, is the BJP’s – and Modi’s – awesome PR machine? In terms of dominating the discourse, extremely so: in terms of winning potential switchers, doubtful. The evidence is in the 10 assembly elections held after the huge Lok Sabha win: four governments formed, of which three in coalition, and a rout in Delhi.
There is only one way to get people to exercise free choice in your favour: persuasion, not propaganda. In politics the ‘seller’ must influence ‘buyers’ who don’t consciously assess their choices but address them with bits and pieces of information that they patch together in their heads to create their own sets of beliefs and perceptions. They are aware that the outcome is much bigger than them, and they don’t individually influence it or expect to.
The Indian electorate has shown time and again that, disparate and dispersed as it is, it can exercise its collective choice with amazing consistency. There are still four years to go for the big one, and many assembly elections in between. Time to shift gears and start talking to them instead of at them.
First published in Impact (www.impactoonnet.com)
Saturday, May 30, 2015
“The problem with BARC is that this measurement system is controlled by those who are being measured.” The Hoot talks to CHINTAMANI RAO about BARC which has begun delivering metrics to broadcasters and media buyers.
BARC is here. Does that take us closer to a more satisfactory audience measurement system than TAM, in your view? And if not why not?
That BARC – or any vendor – is here cannot be an assurance of anything. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Do you see any improvement over TAM ratings in the metrics that the new measurement system has produced so far?
So far, no: mainly because this is household level data. What that means is, BARC data as of now tells you only what a household is tuned into: not who in the household is watching. That’s of precious little use in media planning and buying. It is okay for testing the system and settling it down, but viewer level data is the table stakes. Until you have that you aren’t in the game. So for the purpose of media planning and buying BARC data is not yet useful.
Will BARC be able to deliver better value to advertisers and media planners?
In principle there is no reason why it shouldn’t. But my concern as an industry observer, and one who has been deeply involved with the subject, is that this measurement system is controlled by those who are being measured.
BARC was intended to be an equal-stakes venture of three industry bodies. But finally broadcasters have 60% of the vote, while the other two constituents have only 20% each. In effect, those whose performance is being measured hold sway: they don’t need the support of the others to do pretty much anything.
BARC was set up because the industry decided it didn’t want a vendor-driven system. It has traded that for a broadcaster-driven system. How that is better is for the advertisers and their media agencies to judge.
What are the implications and advantages of watermarking?
I’m not qualified to compare technologies, but there are two limitations I’m aware of.
One, the broadcaster controls the switch. If you’re disgruntled and don’t want your channel to be measured you can simply stop watermarking, and the system will not be able to read your channel. That is not good. It will distort the picture. If I am doing market research on shampoo, for example, and am asking sample homes which brand of shampoo they use, I don’t want Brand X deciding that it won’t allow its consumers to reveal themselves. A major network doing that could hold the whole system to ransom.
Two, it is expensive. Small, single-channel broadcasters, of whom there are hundreds, will find it hard to afford. Other technologies don’t require anything of the broadcaster. So it could result in a partial picture, with data only for participating channels.
The universe from which the sample was chosen is the same as MRUC’s IRS. Is this a satisfactory universe, and if not why not?
Considering the question mark that hangs over the IRS, I would worry about it.
The sampling is 20,000 households going to 50,000 in four years. Do you think that the sample will be sufficiently scientifically chosen to represent 160 million households satisfactorily? It is just double the earlier sampling TAM did, which was pretty small.
First, the question of sample size. We are always concerned with sample size, perhaps because it is easy to grasp.
People generally think what matters is the relationship between the size of the universe and that of the panel. That seems reasonable, but statisticians will tell you that a panel of 10,000 correctly representative of its universe will be as good a measure whether the universe is, say, 10 million or a billion. What matters is not the relationship between the size of the panel and the size of the universe but that between the size of the panel and the smallness of what it is trying to measure.
When TV audience measurement started in this country the media world was relatively simple. There were few channels; TV was mainly entertainment; the most advertised products were fmcg, mostly targeted at women, 15-44, SEC A-C. That was a broad measure, for which the then sample of perhaps 4-5,000 homes was adequate.
Over time not only the number but the genres of TV channels grew; the range of advertised product categories widened to include financial services, auto, mobile telephones, consumer durables, … and, correspondingly, the audiences targeted began to include different demographics. So now you were measuring smaller and smaller channels, in relation to more finely defined audiences.
And the TAM sample grew, too. Decision point: as you add more homes, should you cover more towns or increase the sample size in current towns, i.e., cover more towns thinly or cover fewer towns in depth? That depends on what you seek to achieve. I remember when news broadcasters asked TAM not to increase the geographical spread of its sample because more towns covered would mean more carriage fees.
Of course you can increase the sample in both width and depth of coverage, but someone has to pay for it. There’s no free lunch.
Second, BARC is starting with 20,000 meters, representing all markets. 70% of the meters will be urban: that’s 14,000 meters representing 71 million urban TV households spread across more towns and further down pop strata, compared with TAM’s 10,000 meters representing 61 million in Class 1+ pop strata.
BARC will also represent 82 million rural households with 6,000 meters. If sample size is an issue, how can that be even remotely representative of a universe as culturally diverse and geographically dispersed as rural India?
Yes, it is meant to go up to 50,000 meters over time. But that’s an intention, and eventually someone has to pay for it. If they do, and if it happens, wonderful.
But, as I said, it’s not just about the sample size: that’s simply the easiest handle to grab.
BARC will be using the National Consumer Classification System instead of the socio-economic one. Please explain this and tell us what its advantage is?
The Socio-Economic Classification (SEC) system came about in the late 1980’s on the initiative of the Market Research Society of India (MRSI). The object was to find a better predictor of consumption behaviour than household income, which was commonly used until then. The reason is obvious: two households with similar incomes don’t necessarily behave alike with respect to consumption. So what is it about them that most influences consumption behaviour?
The MRSI did research to determine what parameters best indicated the propensity to consume of a household, and concluded that it was a combination of the education and occupation of the chief wage earner (CWE). That made sense intuitively, too.
The SEC was adopted starting with the National Readership Survey (NRS) of 1988. Some 12 or 15 years later users began to question its relevance, and Media Research Users Council began to consider a new SEC structure. In 2011 MRUC and MRSI introduced the new system, the NCCS.
The NCCS is based also based on two parameters, one of which is the education of the CWE. The other is not occupation, as it was earlier, but the number of durables owned by the household, from a list of 11.
There are all kinds of analyses to show why and how the NCCS is better. But to my mind it is terribly left-brained, the work of technocrats. If the purpose is to classify households according to their propensity to consume, we must look for indicators of their likely behaviour. Ownership of durables is manifest behaviour: they consume lots, so they must have a high propensity to consume.
The SEC system is more stable. For a household the parameters change slowly over time, and if they do change then that’s a result of a life change. If the CWE has acquired more education or upgraded their occupation that will definitely lead to a higher propensity to consume, so their SEC should change.
In the NCCS, on the other hand, if a household that owns one durable today bought two more next year its classification would change. Over time all households will own more durables, so everyone’s classification will change. That doesn’t make sense to me.
Do you think that the fact that BARC segregates the functions of data collection, analysis and reporting between three independent agencies will make it less prone to misuse and lead to more dependable metrics?
The practice is not unique. It is followed elsewhere in the world, too. There’s no single right way to do things. In the end what matters is panel and data security. The biggest problem is not misuse of the reported data: it’s before the data is reported, i.e., panel tampering, so the fewer the people or agencies involved in that process, the better.
In the end everything can be violated if you have a mind to: think of 9/11; think of 26/11. We can only try; and we can take deterrent action against those who are caught, to discourage stray thoughts in that direction.
The expectation is that a better designed system with more sampling will lead to news broadcasters at least reducing sensationalism and being less driven by one big eyeball grabbing story. Is that a realistic expectation?
I’m afraid, not. News broadcasters do what they do not because the measurement system is imperfect but because that’s what they do. Do you think Times Now will be quite happy to show up as no. 2 to CNN-IBN because – thank God! – we at last have a sensible measurement system? They will continue to push frenetically to maximize their score, whatever the scoring system.
What is the sense you are getting of the industry response so far to BARC – from broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies who are all represented in it ownership? Or is it too early to tell?
It’s too early to tell.
So far the advertisers and advertising agencies are playing ball. The advertisers have agreed to do without data until BARC is able to supply it. They spent huge sums on the IPL after planning with individual-level TAM data, and are evaluating it either with household-level BARC data; or with the previous season’s TAM data; or not at all. That’s amazing.
I can’t imagine what’s motivating them, but evidently getting BARC going is important enough to them to risk hundreds of crore of their advertising money shooting in the dark at a moving target.
Published in The Hoot (www.thehoot.org) on 29th May 2015