Perspective | IRS 2013: Skeletons come out of the closet...!!

When the new Indian Readership Survey data for 2013 was released last week in Mumbai, Adgully was present at the proceeding that was attended by the big-daddies of the business. The print industry eagerly awaited the New Year, as it was in 2014 that the new readership numbers would be out. That meant that things would begin to fall in place for them and most importantly for the advertisers. The numbers are aimed to offer clarity in who tops the charts thus assisting advertisers in choosing their bets. The Mumbai announcement was followed Delhi and Bangalore. While reactions by some publications started pouring in immediately after the first leg of announcement, some awaited for the three-city announcement cycle to reach its closure.

While we, just like others in the industry collected our thoughts and interpretations of the new data to reach a conclusion, the dust just didn’t seem to settle on the IRS data! While Adgully approached industry experts to try and understand the intricacies of the issue, a fire of sorts was being lit and fuelled in the industry side-by-side! Our questions to these experts were - as to whether these responses are mere knee-jerk reactions or are players unhappy for real? Also, while the industry managed without numbers for about a year, do the numbers released now have any amount of influence on the advertisers spending pattern ( as some have spent huge amounts without numbers and may continue to do so, remaining uninfluenced by numbers) ? Lastly, while the report cards have reached their respective publications, how are the sales teams in these publications deciphering and interpreting these numbers, along with sketching new strategies and plans to attract advertisers to their hub?

But in the course of filing this report, we, quite literally were a part of the turbulent ride to reach the closure of this story. While our byte-collection had already begun, top publications across the country went all out in being vocal about their unhappiness and disapproval of the data released. Just like our minds and thoughts, our story also took the unexpected twists and turns.

About 18 national publications released and printed a joint statement which condemned the new IRS data and read as follows:

We, the leading newspapers of the country, condemn the newly published Indian Readership Survey (IRS 2013) in the strongest possible terms.
The survey is riddled with shocking anomalies, which defy logic and common sense. They also grossly contradict audited circulation figures (ABC), of long standing. While there are hundreds of such anomalies in the report, we are highlighting just a few of them here:

  • There are wild swings in overall newspaper readership across states. While Punjab has lost a whopping one-third of all its readers in just a year since the last IRS, neighboring Haryana has grown by 17%.
  • Every major newspaper in Andhra Pradesh, irrespective of language, has de-grown by 30 to 65%.
  • There are similarly wild swings at the city level. Mumbai shows a 20.3% growth in overall English readership, while Delhi (a faster-growing city overall on all macroindices) shows a drop of 19.5%.
  • Hitavada, the leading English newspaper of Nagpur with a certified circulation of over 60,000 doesn’t appear to have a single reader now!
  • Hindu Business Line has thrice as many readers in Manipur as in Chennai!!

Given these glaring anomalies, we urge our advertisers and media agencies not to rely upon use the recently published IRS results in any way.

We also strongly ask RSCI and MRUC, the conductors of the Indian Readership Survey, to withdraw the results of IRS Q4 2013 immediately and  as well as put a stop to all future editions of this survey, as their continued publication will cause irreparable injury to the reputation of established publications like ours.

Issued in Public Interest by 18-odd publishers

The Times of India, Jagran, Bhaskar, India Today, Anandabazar, Patrika, Lokmat, Outlook, Daily News and Analysis (DNA), Sakshi, The Hindu, Amar Ujala, The Tribune, Bartaman Patrika, Aaj Samaj, The Statesman, Mid Day, Nai Duniya, Dinakaran

These publications abashedly critiqued the shocking anomalies that, according to them defied basic logic. It may be noted that, these said publications, unanimously declared Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, India Today Group to represent themselves as the grieving parties in the issue. The efforts of the anguished group to get the MRUC to withdraw the new data however, remained unfruitful till the weekend.

Adgully spoke to a few parties involved in this issue, ranging from print players to marketers and consultants who display an interesting mix of opinions. However, our efforts to reach out to the MRUC and certain advertising agency heads did not fructify.

AS Raghunath, Print Media Consultant: 

No matter what fraternity makes one believe, there are countries where media research field work periodicity is as eased as once a year. Back in India, between 1971 and 1997 there were only 6 NRS reports. But even then media and ad-Industry flourished well and functioned smooth. Then the next one decade saw about 17-IRS six monthly reports. Media proliferation became fast paced in this era. Even then advertising revenue maintained the same sedated growth rate that we saw in the previous decades. And now when in the post 2010 the industry is going the rigor of costly, erratic, jet-paced media research reports with a frequency of one every quarter that leaves minimal or no time for agencies to back-check their findings, the ad-GDP ratio remains stationary at same pedestal where it had always been in the last two decades. I believe that this particular report has been released in a very hurried manner, leaving no time to readdress loopholes or shortcomings in the findings.
 
I am afraid and firmly of the opinion that the media fraternity is not likely, to accept this report as there is hardly anything in it for it to use. And those who have been lucky few to be featured well in this round of report beyond their own reorganization, will also not benefit much from it! The advertising fraternity would certainly not accept their new-found status of market leader.

Look, the ad industry does not just dive into data pool and blindly accept someone as market leader just because the research agency has validated them with a POTA status [a terminology that Prof R Vaidyanathan of IMM-B uses to describe such unrealistic data. POTA means, Pulled Out of Thin Air]. The ad industry does not work in isolation from ground realities. Their own clients' sales team also functions from these localities, to report back on ground realities. 

Pradeep Dwivedi, Chief corporate sales and Marketing officer, Dainik Bhaskar Group:
We have studied and analyzed all the markets of Dainik Bhaskar Group (DB) and a few of the important Non DB markets like UP, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttrakhand etc. and have observed lot of anomalies in IRS 2013 report published by MRUC. This is raising several questions on methodology and mechanism on which this report is prepared. A detailed perusal of the data points would establish beyond doubt and corroborate that the process and approach applied for this report is completely irrational, far from accuracy, market perception and ground realities or there are probably serious lapses and compromises in the sanctity of readership survey process execution on the ground.

First of all, the overall market is shown to be behaving in oddly, leading to serious concerns on the veracity of base-lining. There is arbitrary decline of aggregate readership attributed to certain media groups in a targeted manner, while the outcomes in this report appear pre-ordained to benefit a few very specific media groups in a disproportionate and brazen manner for reasons best known to the surveyors. While according to MRUC, trend assessment of this data vis–a–vis previous IRS is not recommended due to change of methodology, sample size, process and research agency, etc, it is obvious to any impartial business observer that either the previous reports were grossly faulty or there is a fundamental issue of credibility with the outcomes reported in the new IRS 2013.

For example, while we are happy to note that Dainik Bhaskar is now been shown to be number 1 publication in Punjab, Punjab Kesari, a prominent player in Punjab has shown a decline by 45% which has resulted into a loss of 5.05 Lac readers. In Ludhiana, Amritsar and Jalandhar combined; Punjab Kesari’s readership has gone down from 3.92 Lac to 1.47 Lac. While we go through in totality, 10.24 Lac readers have disappeared from Punjab, 33% decline in total readership including all players. This is at significant variance with the actual position in the market, as assessed by us. Similarly, The Tribune which is a leading English newspaper in Chandigarh has reached to almost half of its readership compared to last IRS results, from 1.02 Lac to 0.52 Lac readers, without any logical rationale. Hari Bhoomi, which was nowhere in IRS 12Q4 has reported a growth of 390% i.e. from 2.45 Lac to 12.00 Lac readers despite of no new edition or new launch in Haryana in last 18 months. Punjab Kesari has lost by 25%. There is a big question how suddenly 8.65 Lac readers (sum-up of growth and de-growth of all players) have been originated in Haryana.

In the case of Maharashtra, Lokmat, which is perceived as a leader has lost its readership by 16.83 Lac which is around 23% and Sakal has also lost by 17%. This indicates a gross decline in total Maharashtra market, which is not borne out by ground realties of circulation and trade understanding. In case of Gujarat, we are delighted to be assessed as market leader and yet there are concerns on overall findings. Gujarat Samachar which was the leader as per IRS 12 Q4 with 43.95 Lac readers has suddenly shown a de-growth of 16% and has lost 7.06 Lac readers, while Sandesh which is the number 3 player in the market has suddenly gained 5.23 Lac readers and has become number 2 after Divya Bhaskar relegating Gujarat Samachar on 3rd position. In Ahmadabad and Surat, Gujarat Samachar has shown a sharp decline by 27% and 30% respectively, which also is very surprising.

What continues to leave the media trade incredulous are the results reported for Madhya Pradesh! Patrika has all of sudden in last 1 year (without any new launch of any edition) has shown a growth of 135% in readership which is also probably the highest ever growth in any readership survey on such a base and within just 1 year, and clearly reflects hyperbole. In rural areas, Patrika has gained 720% growth over last IRS 12Q4, which means that the rural market in MP has grown many folds suddenly, which defies common sense. Even in Southern Indian states, the situation is same.  Every newspaper in AP, irrespective of language, has dropped by approximately 45-50%. A publication like Sakshi has been shown a drop of 20 lakh readers, down from 53 lakh to 33 lakh, which is also inexplicable.

In Uttar Pradesh, while Jagran group continues to be #1, a Surprising gain of 70% (30 lakh AIR) by Hindustan - in a market where the other newspapers of repute, Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala have shown a drastic drop is illogical, especially when you analyze this data in the context of circulation and RPC (Readers per Copy).

We are sure that similar notes of dissent across the industry are registering with MRUC for immediate recall and recalibration of this report, so that media agencies, advertisers and marketers can make rational decisions based on sound data and not be swayed by the gross errors in this report.

DD Purkayastha, CEO and MD, ABP Pvt. Ltd:
We have carried a joint statement that clearly states our disagreement and discontent with the new IRS data. There was a deadline given to the MRUC to withdraw the data by 5.00 pm, 31st January 2014, Friday, which they did not abide to. Hence about 18 national publications who are parties of the disagreement opinion have gone out to be vocal about this. I believe that there are numerous loopholes in the data released and hence believe that something definitely needs to be done to mend this situation. Citing a major loophole in the data sheets, I 
would like to question how can The Hindu Business Line, which has printing done out of Chennai, have more readers in Manipur than Chennai itself!

RMR Ramesh, MD, Dinakaran:
Our reaction very clearly shows not only our unhappiness but major dismissal of the data released. With this we leave the MRUC with only two options, either to withdraw the current data or conduct a fresh new survey”. Referring to a vague number in the data sheet, he said, that how a district with a circulation of about 53,000 – 55,000 copies have a readership number of mere 5,000. That clearly questions the data put up by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). Having said that; it now leaves the industry captains, to arrive to a collective decision with the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) conducting a meeting on 3rd February 2014.

KK Goenka, MD, Prabhat Khabar, Neutral Publishing House Limited:
In the earlier IRS reports, we have always brought to the notice that RPC is a matter of serious concern. However, in the past, we have been ignored. In today’s scenario also, our grievance remains the same. 

Mahendra Mohan Gupta, CMD and Managin Editor, Jagran:
A major ambiguity in the data released is the ignorance of the circulation figures for reaching to readership numbers. For example, if our circulation in Kanpur is about 60,000 copies and that of Hindustan is 30,000 copies, how is it that our readership is 2.6 readers per copy and that of Hindustan is 10 readers per copy! The sync in circulation numbers and readership numbers is completely absent! Also, how can Hindu Business Line have higher readership in Manipur than in Chennai!  Hitavada, the 
leading English newspaper of Nagpur with a certified circulation of over 60,000, doesn’t appear to have a single reader now! On the MRUC front, we get to know from insiders that the Council has received numerous anonymous complaints with regard to displeasure with the data and its process, which have surely not be taken into cognisance. We believe that in the haste to inflate readership numbers, the survey has gone completely haywire, with nothing to substantiate the data. Having said that, if we do not reach a consensus with the MRUC in the meeting with INS, if need be, we shall take the route of court of law as well!

Sandeep Tarkas, President (Customer Strategy) and CEO (Future Media & T24) at Future Group:
For markets, conducting advertising exercises is an obvious part of the routine, with data or data! It’s understandable that the absence of data would mean we take decisions that are incomplete in certain ways. Hence the availability of data assists 

people like us to a reach a wholesome and complete decision. Though, the non-availability of readership numbers may not have impacted the overall industry, but I believe it definitely has relative impact on individual outfits. We however are looking forward to this data and it promises facts that go beyond mere numbers and shed some light on trends etc. We are keen to understand and study these numbers that could be incorporated to make our spend – plans better. Commenting on the reactions by certain publications, he said, “These kinds of reactions are nothing new! It is like taking a lot of study material for an exam that you have to undergo and then displaying your unhappiness towards the result and blaming the teachers! Taking a look back, something similar happened when the People’s meters was launched and the discontent showed by players with the results that show certain shows or channel’s ratings going down by one-third and half. But with time, all things fell in place”. He said that instead of complaining about the outcome, if there is flaw the players locate, they should complain and question about the process that has brought out the numbers. However, I believe that 
any study has its own share of upheavals and hitches in the initial phase, but with time, we will have to adjust and re-adjust with realities.

Sanjay Tripathy, EVP and Head, Marketing, Product and Direct Channels, HDFC Life:
The new IRS survey bringing out the much needed data after almost a year has been good news. With a sample of more than 235,000 households across India including 75,000 rural households, the survey has transformed itself to be more robust, scientific, accurate and in-depth. In my opinion, the survey highlights the most popular consumption group - the middle class, which is growing phenomenally. Increased consumption of durables and FMCG products mentioned in the survey seconds my belief. This is indeed very encouraging. Publishers targeting this segment should be happy as I foresee more advertisers reaching out to this group. After the long hiatus, I believe that advertisers will definitely fine-tune the alignment of the choice of publications to their target audience for a better and more effective reach.

As expected by certain sections of the industry, the new IRS release did bring in some stir in the fraternity and kept everyone involved, on their toes. While the media awaits the executive meeting of INS with the presence of MRUC and some print players, one thing stands certain and i.e. a dramatic unfolding of the number crunching game! Watch this space for further developments.

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