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Quest for Ratings: Advertisers must rely on Net data

IPL helping advertisers to target people better

n 7 February this year, a record average of 106 million people across the US tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. In India, IPL viewership numbers caused plenty of commotion last year when around 11 million watched the semi-finals. The local record, probarbly held by a soap, is even more. Even regular programming attracts large audiences. Prime advertising slots are expensive, yet advertisers fill them eagerly, because it helps them reach you. But does it?

Viewership data is like gold to audience research firms, who earn their money helping advertisers target people better. But if you watch a lot of TV, as I do, you might agree that the targeting doesn't work very well. Advertising in general seems hopelessly indiscriminate. Ads for expensive new phones swiftly follow ads for five-rupee savings on detergent, or ones extolling the virtues of new truck engine oil. The same ads are shown to millions of people living in different parts of the country. Since even the best ads are wasted on everybody but the ones they target, the degree of imprecision is huge. But is this the fault of bad market research alone?

TV figures in India are monitored primarily by two agencies: TAM India, and aMap. Wiki them. They deal in mystical things like television ratings points (TVRs) and target rating points (TRPs). They survey a bunch of representative households and then extrapolate the data to the entire population to figure out who is watching. Naturally, these numbers are quite imprecise. But from the point of view of data alone, the trend towards direct-to-home (DTH) satellite services should help. DTH providers can have much more precise figures than cable TV ones, since basically every connection is unique.

They should also in principle be able to better tell whether viewers are young or old, male or female. But improved data alone does not improve targeted access to consumers. Part of the reason lies in the very nature of the TV industry in India.

The boom in TV has happened in the last five years, and cable TV itself is less than twenty years old. But the technology has long since been ready and new channels now launch nationwide with relatively little effort. And so we have gone from virtually no TV to a wide spectrum of national channels serving millions of customers. This is a phenomenal expansion by any standards, but it comes at a price. In the US, in contrast, channels were initially telecast locally, to smaller audiences, when TV was new, and only gradually evolved to nationwide coverage as the technology improved. The understanding of target audiences, and access to them, evolved over a long span of time. The US still has many local TV stations that compete for viewers by showing localised programming. Different ads can run in different parts of the country, even for the same show. Indian TV started national, and while it has a plethora of regional language channels, it hasn't yet been worth anybody's while to go more local than that.

This is a pity. While we may be ambivalent about helping advertisers reach us better, as consumers we might wish for local television for other reasons. It would be useful to get specialised real-time information, say, on what to do in south Delhi in the event of an emergency. And for your part, you might enjoy a video of the last Easter fair in your neighbourhood. After all, like me and 11 million others, you probably skipped it to watch the IPL semifinals.

Madhav Raghavan is a doctoral student of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi, by day, and is everywhere else at night.

Contact him at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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