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NDTV bells the cat, files suit against TAM

Anusha Subramanian     August 2, 2012
Anusha SubramanianIt is a problem that has festered between Television Audience Measurement (TAM) ratings and television channels for more than a decade. The latter claim the ratings are manipulated.

The recent billion-dollar suit filed by NDTV against TAM India - and it global parent firms Nielsen and Kantar - in the United States is only its latest manifestation.

The suit has been filed largely on two grounds.

NDTV claims TAM's sample sizes are too small and the procedure it follows allows scope for manipulating ratings. The 'flaws' NDTV points out have always existed, but this is the first time a channel has actually filed a suit against TAM India.

For years, TAM ratings have been the only TV audience measurement system in this country. Most channels have been beneficiaries of this system at some point or the other. Yet TAM is the favorite punching bag of them all. Time and again they have raised questions about its accuracy.

What is at stake is advertising revenues.

Advertisers apportion spends based on the viewership a channel manages to garner for its various slots. Of the 231 million households in India, 148 million homes have TV connections. Of these, 126 million have cable or digital links.

Also, some new genres have seen an explosion of viewership since TAM set up its panels in particular homes to measure viewership. NDTV has claimed damages for 'sustained losses' in the last three years.

This has long been a ticking time-bomb.

The National Media Policy report by the Sectoral Innovation Council - set up by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry - had called for an alternative to TAM as well.

Criticisms of TAM may be justified, but there is also another issue. Marketers and advertisers are finding it tough to increase ad spends, and TAM has also faced an uphill battle in terms of funding.

The crisis could serve as a wake-up call for the industry that needs updated systems as over $2 billion of advertising money is spend on TV - largely based on the results of TAM.

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