Cliched as it may sound but the merger between Broadcast Research Audience Council (BARC) and TAM Media Research Pvt Ltd (TAM) is nothing but old wine in a new bottle. Let’s get down to the basics to understand this: Why was BARC launched? BARC was launched after a widespread hue and cry against the alleged inadequacy of the peoplemeters deployed by TAM to capture the correct viewership trends from across the country, and the allegations that its system was rigged and the team carrying out the research was inefficient.
It was repeatedly misrepresented by a section of stakeholders in the industry that TAM wasn’t ready to deploy more peoplemeters. A larger foot-print needed funding that needed to come from those asking for it. But nobody was ready to put money where their mouth was. The other major allegation against TAM was that being the only audience research measurement company, it was a monopoly that would flex its muscles every now and then.
Not many were ready to understand that in most markets across the world, audience measurement, be it of print or TV, is carried only by one agency and that is because TV ratings or readership numbers represent the currency that is used to transact business between broadcasters and advertisers. Two or more currencies only make transactions difficult for understandable reasons. Yet those opposed to TAM kept raising these issues and the vicious cycle of allegations and counter-allegations continued till the government stepped in and announced it will set up its own measurement agency to plug the so-called loopholes in the existing system.
This threat was what led the industry to get into a huddle and they, immediately, announced the launch of BARC, a new agency that will, they promised, will right all the wrongs committed by TAM. Incidentally, who were the stakeholders behind BARC? It were the same broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies that had formed the joint industry body to “guide” TAM when it was launched in 1998 and who continued holding its hands for a very long time.
Seventeen years and many controversies later, what do we have in the newly formed Meter Management Company? It is the same industry bodies representing broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies, the same peoplemeters (the number deployed, however, will be more than that of TAM), the same technology and to top it, the same team that the industry, every once in a while, will launch an offensive against.
Besides these, a section of the industry saw a conflict of interest in Kantar Media, owned by Martin Sorrell’s WPP, owning a stake in TAM as they argued that the world’s largest advertising agency holding a stake in India’s only TV audience measurement agency meant compromises all the way. Well, Kantar continues to be one of the parents for TAM besides Nielsen. So why no questions about the so-called conflict of interest now?
There is no denying that the merger between BARC and TAM has many positives to it. To begin with, one currency or one set of data in audience measurement will ensure a conflict-free environment as argued earlier. That means we will not see flashy ads in newspapers by rival broadcasters claiming leadership using data from different agencies. Secondly, the merger will naturally lead to consolidation of resources, an immediate outcome of which will be a much larger number of peoplemeters (34,000 against TAM’s current 12,000) and hence, a better reflection of viewership trends. Thirdly, as many industry veterans have pointed out, an experienced team at TAM will ensure no unpleasant surprises in carrying out the business.
Having said that not much has changed in terms of what will the new company do and how it will do it.
A new bottle with a new label, however, may help some stakeholders feel better served and if that is all it takes to ensure harmony in the industry, it may not be a bad price to pay.