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September 5, 2001
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TRP rating: The slip is showing

K Giriprakash

The crucial television rating points on which the Rs 45 billion television advertising market is built may no longer remain a holy cow following the availability of the confidential list of households where the peoplemeters, a measuring instrument, are installed.

The list which includes peoplemeter households in Bombay, which is available with Business Standard clearly indicate that television serial producers can easily manipulate the ratings if they have access to such a document.

The peoplemeter is an electronic data-capturing device for measuring the member and kinds of people watching TV programmes.

For example, if a producer manages to control 50 households each in Bombay and Delhi, the TRP of his serial can go up by as much as 6 points which could give him ad spots worth between Rs 70,000 and Rs 200,000 for a 10 second spot. Anything more can mean real big bucks for the producers.

The ratings are regularly given out by research agencies, ORG- Marg which uses INTAM (Indian National Television Audience Measurement) system and AC Nielsen which uses the TAM (Television Audience Measurement) system.

The reason, which can lead to manipulation of TRP is because of the small sample size on which the entire rating system works. For example, INTAM has a sample size as low as 4,405 households across the entire country.

With such a low sample size the probability of tampering and manipulating is extremely high considering the fact that each sample household in a city like Bombay represents almost 8,500 cable and satellite households.

INTAM also has a classification called 'working male', which by definition means that they should be out of the home in the afternoons.

But as per documents available with Business Standard, there is a large viewership among working males for afternoon soaps and repeat of prime time soaps in the afternoons.

This is clearly an anomaly, because this is the time when the so called 'working male' segment should be at work and not at home watching soaps.

For example, in Bombay, for the serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, the viewership among working males (age group: 25-44 in SEC AB) on June 19, a Thursday, is 11 TRP, while for serial Kahani Ghar, Ghar Ki on July 12, exactly a week before, the viewership among working males was 5.15 TRP in Bombay and for Sanskruti, on July 12, 2001, the TRP for Bombay is 8.57.

Sources with ORG-Marg said that it is certainly not a positive development.

"The fact that this newspaper has been able to get hold of a copy of the peoplemeter houses proves that it is not impossible to have access to such information," sources in ORG-MARG said.

"In case it is proved that the peoplemeter households can even be identified is enough for us to revamp the entire structure," the source said.

Officials with AC Nielsen, which uses TAM system, however, refused to comment. "We would not like to comment at this point of time," the official said.

When approached Star TV declined comment. But sources with the TV channel said it was too shocking to comprehend that peoplemeter houses can be easily manipulated. Sources said that this newspaper had access to the list indicated that the entire system was not tamper-proof.

Madison's, group media controller, A Thivyanathan admitted, "The entire system needed to be overhauled now that the list of peoplemeter households was in public domain. It is extremely ridiculous that something like this can happen," he said.

He said that Madison did not always use the TAM and INTAM ratings alone for taking crucial decisions but used other channels for determining the ad spend.

Ogilvy & Mather, Head, Media Buying, Hema Ravikumar also said, "This is certainly shocking that the confidential document is now available in the public domain".

She said the agencies have to depend on TAM and INTAM ratings because this is the only form of feedback, which can be got from other cities.

One of the most popular serials on Star TV, Kyunki Saas...has a TRP of 15 and hence attracts extremely high number of ad spots.

In Bombay, the peoplemeter homes are 350, which use INTAM system and 313, which use TAM system.

In Delhi, peoplemeter homes are 280, which use INTAM system while there are 355 peoplemeter homes, which have TAM system installed.

Advertisers while deciding the price of a programme on a Hindi channel use the TRP of north, east and western India combined.

These 100 manipulated homes make an overall impact in the north, east, west of a huge magnitude. For TAM, it creates an overall TRP of 7.2 and for INTAM 6.3.

What is a peoplemeter?

The peoplemeter is an electronic data-capturing device for measuring the member and kinds of people watching TV programmes.

It is connected to the television set with a frequency running device to monitor channels being watched and requires a remote control for the viewers to register their presence in the room while viewing the channel or specific programme.

To collect information on who is watching the programme or the serial, when is he or she watching the programme or how much time is spent watching, researchers use peoplemeter technology to measure second to second viewership.

The remote has a numbered button for every resident of the household as well as visitor buttons. Each button is programmed with the age/sex/demographic data of each household member. Visitors input their age/sex information when logging on to the meter.

The peoplemeter has a tuner sensing device and it automatically records households viewing, that is whether the set is on or not and which station/channel it is tuned on to.

Individual and visitors in the house press their assigned button upon entering and leaving the room when the set is on. It also prompts as soon as television is switched on for viewers to register on the peoplemeter remote by pressing their their numbered button.

Viewing is recorded continuously all through the year for 24 hours a day.

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