Tracking television viewers is important business
The study of the way TV audiences behave has become more important by the day. No surprise as it is viewership numbers that determine how advertisers invest their money
That cricket is religion in India is well known. The short format Indian Premier League (IPL) has become the most important TV event of the year. Events and movie releases are shuffled around so as not to clash with the matches in the 6-week, April-May window. In data terms, IPL has grown 41 percent in viewership this year since the 2016 season, and the average time spent by TV watchers on IPL increased from 28 to 34 minutes.
Its not just another sport; it is pure entertainment competing with soaps and movies. "Entertainment channels typically do no launch new shows in the IPL season,” says Partho Dasgupta, CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the man who is in charge of tracking TV data.
Interestingly, it is not just cricket. Live sports as a whole has emerged as the biggest form of entertainment with a little bit of help from both Star Sports and Sony. Star has discovered Kabaddi as a mass favourite only next to cricket; and in football, Sony has found FIFA matches are a runway hit. And sometimes they beat cricket! BARC data, which Dasgupta quotes, shows FIFA matches between mid-June and mid-July this year grabbed 65 percent of all sports viewing, compared to cricket’s 27 percent; and the Pro Kabaddi League, that has just started, showed last week it had captured 75 percent of the sports audience compared to 15 percent for cricket.
The study of the way TV audiences behave has become more important by the day. No surprise as it is viewership numbers that determine how advertisers invest their money – on what programs and on which TV channels.
So important was the mapping of TV audiences to the broadcast industry that the TV channel owners, advertisers and the agencies all ganged up, threw out the old audience tracker TAM Media and formed their own body --the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Their case was the old measurement currency was based on too small a sample size and did not deliver ‘scientific’ data. Thus, since April 2015 it is BARC that has been in charge of audience data, and the currency audience numbers in vogue is ‘impressions’.
How scientific is it now? “We source data from 33,000 homes today – equivalent to 135,000 individuals – and the number will go up to 44,000 homes by March next year,” says Partho Dasgupta. India is the second largest TV viewers market after China. India has 197 million TV homes covering 66 percent of the population; compared to China which has 434 million homes with a coverage of 92 percent of the population. However, while the panel size (data base) for India is 135,000 people, China has a panel size of just 22,500! (see chart)
Dasgupta, who has experience in setting up start-up and management teams earlier at ‘Times Now’ and Future Media, says the relatively large base of ‘bar-o-meters’ (earlier called People meters) in India is necessary considering the diversity of the population – the variety of languages, regions and income groups.
Another interesting aspect of the Indian TV market is as many as 92 percent of the 836 million people who watch TV are from single-TV homes. Owning a single TV is a result of two factors – income paucity as well as characteristically small, one-room homes. This has led to what is expected – 82 percent of the TV-owning population ‘co-views’programmes, and as much as 57 percent of the time spent on TV is of the ‘co-viewership’ type.
This co-viewing phenomenon has important implications. For the advertiser, the advantage of joint viewing gives brands and products a wider audience, and therefore greater bang for the buck. On the other hand, co-viewing disrupts targeting of specific audiences – say a face cream aimed at working women or a new bike brand for young men under 25.
But is ‘enforced’ co-viewing forcing viewers, especially the younger ones, to turn away from ‘appointment’ viewing to the ease of view-as-you-please option of a Netflix or Amazon Prime? Dasgupta feels Netflix is too niche and expensive a format to pose a threat to the broadcast industry. It is expensive and limited to “maybe 5 million to 10 million subscribers.” TV has still another 100 million homes to cover in India. Its penetration is just 66 per cent now. There’s enough scope for expansion, he says.
But considering Facebook’s bid of a mammoth $610 million for IPL rights to stream cricket should have alarm bells ringing. The way people consume entertainment is indeed changing fast.