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No major shifts, just course corrections – Advertisers on resumption of TV news ratings

Advertisers are reacting to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s (MIB) direction to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to release the news ratings with immediate effect. It is unclear as to when BARC will start releasing the data. While news broadcasters are hailing the decision, advertisers exercise circumspection in their response: it is a mix of muffled enthusiasm and cautious reaction.

Has the news genre been in a limbo ever since BARC suspended publishing TV News ratings? Not really. For example, brands had found a way through surrogates to find out how news channels were performing and were allocating their advertising budget accordingly.

So, how will the new development change advertiser behaviour? Will there be a shift in ad spends, hike in ad rates in the TV news genre?

In conversation with Adgully, Rajiv Dubey, Senior General Manager – Head of Media, Dabur, remarked that the shift in ad spends depended on the change in pecking order of news channels. “Suppose one news channel comes up in the top list, that channel will obviously tend to get more monies. That way there will be a change in behaviour as far as advertisers are concerned. For the last 15 months, BARC has completely kept us in the dark. We don’t know what is happening in the new genre. It will help us understand how the viewership behaviour has changed within the news genre. That will basically change our shift in news genre,” he added.

Dubey affirmed that for Dabur, news genre is very important and added that the company invests heavily in the genre.

“It is a very dynamic medium. It has a huge affinity for the kind of products Dabur makes. So, the news genre is extremely important for us. Because of the affinity and the fact that consumers are there on the news genre, it is very important for us to be there. It is very important for us to spend money on the right TV channels, which has not been happening because we have been kept in dark for the last 15 months by BARC. As we get a better understanding of this genre and the time bands and the kinds of programming and clearer data, we can spend money in a better way and reach out to our audiences in a very clear and objective manner,” he further said.

Condemning the new system of releasing data on a monthly basis, Dubey wondered why there is hesitation on the part of the news channels to release the data.

“We will not get the correct information. We will get averaged out and garbled information. We will not be able to take appropriate actions based on such data, which is not very fair for the advertiser. We are the ones who are really funding the entire news genre. The industry sustains because of the advertisers, not anything else. We fund them and we are the ones who sustain the genre. Why they are hiding the data? What do the news channels fear? If correct data comes out, what will happen? You should not be scared of the data. The same thing happened with newspapers sometime back when they stopped the IRS data. And they didn’t want the correct data to come out. It took two years to settle down. This is not going to be good for the industry if they try to hide the data or release information on a monthly basis. It is not the right way. That is not the way the world works. It works on correct information and data,” he explained.

According to him, whatever is ailing BARC should have been fixed long back. “BARC had the last 16 months to fix whatever problems, governance-related problems, and backend issues they were facing. They should have fixed everything by now,” he said.

Dubey insisted that advertisers “should get absolute clarity on the way viewership happens all across channels”.

Why should news channels be exempted from giving data, he asked. “News channels should not be exempted from of this. Data is the right of every advertiser. Anyone spending money on a genre should get the right information. And some of these right information are not coming to us. There is a huge disconnect on this. We have been deprived of this information. It is a free country and every information should be available to everyone in a correct way,” Dubey maintained.

Rubbishing rumours that MIB has given any instructions such as ratings should start after the upcoming assembly elections, Dubey said that what the MIB has said is “immediate”. “And this word has been interpreted by different people differently, which is incorrect. Immediate means the data should be out by this Thursday. Immediate does not mean after three months, as being interpreted by some people, which is not fair. It should be made available immediately. That is the intent of the MIB,” he added.

Jayen Mehta, Chief General Manager, Planning and Marketing, GCMMF (Amul), also wondered why ratings data for TV channels is being released monthly when everything else is weekly. “There is no reason for an outlier. News should be treated like any other genre reported by BARC,” he maintained.

Mehta pointed out that Amul has been among the top advertisers across news and overall TV category during the last two years of the COVID pandemic. “News continues to be very relevant category for us and the industry in general. News will continue to hold relevance for some time given the current situation,” he added.

While he did not anticipate any major shifts in spends, Mehta felt that data should be reported to aid better decision-making and evaluate performance in a fair manner. “We don’t see major shift in our strategy because we have always gone by what we saw and heard on the ground as well and knew that news was important,” he added.

The male audience
Advertising on news channels was not based on ratings alone. And hence, there won’t be a drastic shift in advertiser behaviour.

News is an essential part of most male-facing media plans, and hence, resumption of ratings will help better investment decisions, noted Rediffusion MD Sandeep Goyal.

“There will be no major shifts, just course corrections. There was already past data that indicated trends, which planners have continued to rely upon. Data, even on a monthly basis, is good enough. As it is smart buyers use data only as a directional indicator. It would be rather foolish to base buys on swings every week. News is a good genre and it works well for many categories. Hence sees reasonable investment,” he added.

Sanjay Adesara, Head of Media & Digital, Adani Wilmar, too, said that advertiser behaviour will not change majorly, because news channels were anyway not only chosen on the basis of the ratings. Most other important factors are affinity and overall costing (effective rate | ER), since the genre is considered for frequency building, he added.

“News as a consolidated genre was reported in BARC; thus, the advertisers already had an idea as to how the genre had been performing during peak/ non-peak seasons. The key categories that have been investing in the genre are banking and finance. They are continuing to spend, irrespective of the ratings being suspended. Yes, advertisers/ categories (FMCG) who have limited revenues on the genre may use this data to make more selected choices with the number of channels considered,” Adesara further said.

In the overall marketing mix at Adani Wilmar, the News genre ranks #4 (8-12% share) from a total universe perspective. “News is an important genre from a male audience perspective. It helps build frequency and be relevant in the current pandemic times since people are on the lookout to being in the know of the current situation,” he said,

According to Adesara, the apprehensions with regard to the monthly release of data are broadly knee-jerk reactions, which will phase out. “News channels do not have to change content every day, unlike other reach driving genres. Yes, certain events do lead to a spike in the viewership/ time spent, but largely the trend will plateau. Monthly data will help nullify the spike since it will be a 4-week average, which can benefit stakeholders,” he opined.

According to Ashish Bajaj, Head of Marketing, PR and Partnership at MediBuddy, the MIB move will definitely add more advertisers to the genre. “It might now move major shifts but will make new advertisers try the genre, who were not entering because of no ratings.”

According to him, for quite a long time news genre has been a main focus genre for male-dominant consumer brands and for the last two years since the pandemic, it’s the genre which is providing fresh content for TV consumers.

Regarding the new system of releasing data on a monthly, Bajaj says that brands and planners will get used to the format but old frequency will be ideal as it gives much control.

The surrogacy game
Apurva Sircar, Head – Marketing at Bandhan Bank, felt that the re-introduction of ratings will help course correct where ratings have changed in the last year. “The absence of ratings for news channels resulted in advertising monies being invested on the basis of historical data. A major shift in spends may not be the result as brands have figured out surrogates to establish how news channels are performing and have been allocating money accordingly,” he added.

For Bandhan Bank, news is an important genre for male-centric categories. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a considerable increase in the viewership of news channels and that has brought more focus on them from advertisers as well, said Sircar.

According to him, for advertisers who are regular on TV, a weekly data framework would be more desirable. However, he adds, from a situation of no ratings to monthly ratings, in any case, is a movement in the right direction.

An industry insider, preferring anonymity, says that even without any data on news channels, they had consistent advertisers.

“Broadly, the ranking of news channels is what one looks at along with the rate/10s. Most channels operate in very similar rating band. In a typical media plan, there is a mix of 3-4 news channels usually. The standard approach is to take top two channels and 2-3 middle-ranked channels; this gives a spread and visibility. Even during the last 18 months with no data on news channels, they had consistent advertisers. The ratings probably help the news channels to send mailers on their being No1 – at any data slice favoring them. The news genre performance is usually stable round the month – unless there is some major activity or story that breaks. In a steady state, the viewership trend for the news genre will be a stable line – so data coming in monthly might cause a bit of issue for the channels; however, for the advertiser it doesn’t make much difference. Yes, if there is a specific content that at times you may want data for that time band or day at the earliest. I am sure the surrogates for performance will come in soon. Views of the news channel on their digital platforms might start becoming the performance currency,” said the industry insider.

“The two main subsets in news are English and Hindi. While ratings are relevant in Hindi where substantial numbers are represented in the sample size, the English news channels report very low numbers and multiple decimal places that become statistically insignificant at times. The news genre is a significant platform especially for male audiences where there are limited options on GEC besides sports and movies. Monthly data is a good enough indicator to study trends in the niche segment,” said Helios Media Managing Director Divya Radhakrishnan.  Adgully

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