Data fusion, cloud storage, computer aided-data-capture. This is not about a new tech start-up. These are some of the things on the wish list of the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI) as it attempts to bring out the “best readership study in the world”, says Lynn De Souza, chairperson, RSCI. De Souza is also CEO OF Lintas Media Group.
Requests for Proposal (RFPs) have been invited from some of the largest research and technology companies in the world. And, a selection committee is running through the possibilities. From October this year, fieldwork on a new, refurbished Indian Readership study (IRS) for 2012-2018 will be underway. The current one, done by Hansa Research, will run its usual course till the end of 2012.
IRS is a crucial metric. It measures the consumption — meaning readership, viewership et al — of newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet and cinema in India, every quarter. It also offers a demographic map of Indian consumers and a look at their consumption patterns across categories like consumer durables, cars, consumer products and so on.
IRS is mainly used as a currency to buy and sell advertising in the Rs 21,000-odd-crore Indian print industry (advertising plus pay). At over 110 million copies sold everyday, India is one of the largest newspaper markets in the world. It is also one of the handful of the markets that are growing in double digits.
Why IRS needs to change
In 2009 the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) which owns IRS, and the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), which tabulates circulation data, came together to pool their resources. The result was the RSCI, which was set up in October 2011. It has been mandated to bring out IRS.
Paritosh Joshi, the former CEO of Star CJ Home Shopping, heads the technical committee of RSCI. After many months of deliberations, it has come up with its recommendations on what needs to change with IRS and how.
Joshi reckons the problem with IRS stems from sampling and non-sampling issues.
Take the non-sampling ones first. It takes one-and-a-half hours to administer one questionnaire. The quality of the response, therefore, is suspect, because most respondents tend to fade out by the end of 30-45 minutes. “Internationally, it is acceptable to do data fusion instead of trying to capture every answer in one sitting,” says Joshi. The idea is to do a suite of studies — each with one set of questions and then fuse the data. The data collection could happen from different samples. “This way, you get a lot of data without increasing sample size and overloading the respondent,” says De Souza.
Another non-sampling issue? The suspicion that IRS can be tampered with. You could influence the interviewer or the interviewee to say anything. So, the technical committee has recommended the use of data-capture technology instead of pen and paper. “You could geo tag every interview. The moment an interview is over in any city or town, you can lock it down. Once it is sealed and encrypted, nothing in it can be changed by anybody,” says Joshi. This reduces much of the possibility of tampering.
There are several such recommendations that overhaul everything from the questions asked to the way data are captured and utilised.
Who will foot the bill?
These include the sample, the second issue. Almost everyone agrees that the 256,000 people IRS covers seem large. But, it is, in fact, too small to capture the heterogeneity — of both the market and the variety on offer. Typically, magazines and specialised publications fare poorly on IRS. For instance, business or technology magazines usually look bad in readership surveys.
This has been a major grouse of media owners. So, the big ambition this time is to double the sample size to 500,000, gradually. At 256,000, IRS is already the largest continuous readership study in the world. Will the industry be willing to pay to cover twice that many people with hi-tech stuff?
Much of the work RSCI is doing is needed. Even its RFPs were divided between research, and technology companies. But, most metrics in India suffer not because we have poor research agencies but because advertisers and media owners are penny pinchers. The reason TAM sample remains small is because nobody wants to foot the bill for a bigger one. Ditto for IRS. You could argue that the market is not big enough or profitable enough to pay two to three times more for its research. The point is, the market won’t pay.
To get around that, “what IRS must do is find new ways in which the currency can be used”, says Joshi. There is an idea that all the data could sit on a cloud. Data subsets on, say, mobile, radio or on different consumer categories and languages or geographies can be mined and sold individually. This will reduce the cost to the existing subscribers of the data.
Much of what RSCI is attempting is already used in researching other products and markets. If media owners and advertisers agree to these changes, chances are a robust, healthier print industry will emerge.