Facing criticism for lack of accuracy and allegations of manipulation, and with a $1.3 billion lawsuit from NDTV to contend with, Nielsen and Kantar owned TAM ratings met two advertising industry bodies – The Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) last week. In a joint statement, as reported by Campaign India, TAM has outlined the following six steps to address concerns:

1. Appointment of a security officer and a security agency
2. Expansion in number of meters in the existing six top metros
3. A review by the industry of research processes that determine what TAM reports in its weekly reports. And what meter homes are left out of reporting for being data outliers
4. Getting the outlier homes independently audited
5. Faster panel rotation and
6. An internal audit team to be put in place as soon as possible.

Now these are generic steps outlined, and if you read our earlier post on NDTV’s lawsuit and assurances given by Nielsen and Kantar, these are even fewer and less specific than what TAM had (allegedly) recommended to NDTV. In contrast, NDTV had proposed to Nielsen the following actions:

1. Taking criminal action against offenders for corrupt practices
2. Making a public statement of Nielsen’s intent to crack down on ratings offenders
3. Refraining from publishing data for niche channels until the sample size hits a minimum of 5,000 for SEC AB (upper socio-economic groups)
4. Monthly all India sweeps/surveys
5. Publishing both mean and range for the data (e.g. Channel X viewership range 3%-37%)
6. Increasing the number of PeopleMeters to 24,000 with immediate effect and up to 50,000 PeopleMeters by 2014
7. Improving rotation of PeopleMeter homes
8. Appointing an independent security firm to ensure sanctity of PeopleMeter homes, parallel homes and compliance by TAM staff
9. Appointing an independent auditor for all data
10. Banning outsourcing of all technical services
11. Installing systems to prevent leakage of confidential information such as addresses of PeopleMeter homes, and referring all outliers to independent technical experts on a weekly basis.

It’s unlikely that TAM will publicly agree to awareness of corruption. For more details, read our post on what NDTV’s Whistleblower (allegedly) said about the rigging of TAM ratings.

How To Disrupt TAM Ratings

Frankly, we don’t understand why TAM cannot invest in realtime monitoring of television, especially with mobile Internet connectivity and data cards being pervasive, especially in the metro cities. If you can have digital out-of-home media receiving advertising and programming using data cards, why can’t a television system transmit information on viewership behavior back to screens? A part of the cost of expanding TAM to a larger panel is probably that of having to employ people to collect the data manually – why not digitize the entire process? The other steps – of independent auditing, appointing a Chief Security Officer, faster panel rotation – are welcome, but TAM has not released any specific timelines for increasing the PeopleMeter homes, nor has it given any target panel base.

Really, this is an opportune moment for someone to come in and disrupt TAM. Here’s how you can do it:

– Get Connected: Deploy a connected digital solution that delivers data in real time over the mobile Internet, which should result in with lower costs of collecting data. Pravin, in his blog post,  points us towards a QnA on Nielsen’s website, which suggests that the cost of PeopleMeters is $5000 per year (including multiple operating and labor costs), and an iPhone is much much cheaper than that.

– Large panel & randomization: Ensure that the panel size for this is at least three to five times of TAM’s, with a wider geographical spread, because you have connected apps. This allows you to take a larger base than TAM’s, and randomise viewership even within that base.

– Smart TV & DTH Data: Tie up Smart TV manufacturers, DTH companies and cable operators for (anonymised) viewership data (this idea, via iDubba), showcased alongwith overall ratings data. In case of Smart TVs, it could be as simple as pushing an app over the air to a connected TV.

– Go Realtime: When it comes to data, there’s nothing quite as addictive as Realtime. If you’ve seen the Realtime stats on Google Analytics, it’s fascinating to look at what people are reading. Imagine there being realtime data on what people are watching at that very minute, or a list of the most popular shows in a particular part of the country or for an SEC category. Imagine getting data on the viewership of a Cricket match, as it builds up towards a last over finish. Think of a One Day International where people switch the TV off after Sachin Tendulkar gets out, but log back in after word gets around that the others are mounting a come-back. Channels will be able to make better decisions on choosing slots for TV shows, based on viewership behavior. This is what Google TV would want to do – give advertisers and content owners the data to make better decisions.

– Go multi-platform for media planners:  Allow advertising agencies and media planners the ability to look at data whereever they are, whenever they want. Once you’re collecting the data, give them iPhone and Android apps for viewing viewership stats.

– Go Social: integrate Twitter and second screen applications for social information for media planners. Right now, the digital advertising and TV advertising planners work separately, but the opportunity here is to give them social networking information and data that helps them make better decisions on the basis of what went viral on Facebook or started trending on Twitter. Remember that, right now, we’re talking about a relatively small base on Twitter, but Twitter trends have begun influencing TV programming (ask the News and Youth channels). Pravin and iDubba suggest the integration of second screen apps (like iDubba and WhatsOnIndia):

The problem for anyone starting afresh is more likely to be bureaucratic than technology related

– Why will users with Smart TVs and DTH Set Top Boxes willingly share their data? Incentives will have to be figured out, the way TAM has done, with gifts and coupons.
– Why will DTH companies and Smart TVs allow integration of data collecting apps? Again, incentives will have to be figured out. Some of these companies might actually integrate analytics to begin with. I’d be surprised if Google TV doesn’t do this already.
– Why will advertising agencies, used to TAM and working with GRPs, switch? This is where integrating Social and Realtime information, and making it available across platforms initially for free comes in. As a media planner, you might be making a decision on the basis of TAM’s GRP’s, but the temptation to get a second opinion and checking realtime data, available on the web, will always be there. This information needs to be looked at in juxtaposition with panel data, and not stand-alone.

There are likely to be several other issues, especially bureaucratic, since this is about disrupting a well entrenched TV monitoring system, and trying to get a buy-in from many different parts of the digital ecosystem.

Any other ideas? Do leave a comment.