Slaps $1.39 billion lawsuit on TAM India and global parent firms Nielsen & Kantar

News broadcaster NDTV has sued the country’s only television audience measurement company TAM India — and its global parent firms Nielsen and Kantar — for over a billion dollars in the Supreme Court of New York, accusing TAM of manipulating ratings in return for bribes to its officials.

While there have been allegations of manipulation of TAM’s viewership data among broadcasters for years, NDTV has finally blown the whistle with its July 25 lawsuit, seeking damages of at least $810 million for its losses over the last eight years due to TAM’s allegedly fraudulent actions. Accusing Nielsen and Kantar of deliberately ignoring the situation even after having been presented with evidence — detailed in the 194-page lawsuit — NDTV is also seeking damages of $580 million for losses due to negligence over the last three years.

On Tuesday, NDTV reported a net loss of Rs. 26.09 crore for the quarter ended June 30, 2012, significantly higher than the Rs. 17.98 crore loss reported during the quarter ended June 30, 2011. Both TAM India and NDTV refused to comment.

TAM installs “PeopleMeters” in over 8,000 sample homes to monitor viewership patterns, giving critical input to corporate decisions on the advertising purchases that fund and sustain the broadcast industry. In its lawsuit, NDTV claims that the small sample size and low turnover have given rise to rampant corruption, with touts willing to “fix” ratings by influencing sample homes. One so-called “consultant” told NDTV and Nielsen and Kantar officials in a January 2012 meeting how the list of PeopleMeter homes — supposed to be secret — was leaked in Bangalore. He explained how he was able to successfully bribe viewers in sample homes, as well as TAM staff, and finally get a PeopleMeter installed at his own residence.

In April 2012, two Mumbai field staff of TAM met NDTV representatives and offered to manipulate the channels ratings, claiming that “they could triple channel ratings of NDTV in Mumbai over a period of two to three weeks in the required target group. They stated they had direct access to homes and visited those homes periodically (at least 3 to 4 times a week) and were in a position to easily influence what the households watched/viewed. They said by paying a bribe of $250 to $500 per household per month, the TAM households could be made to watch only those channels which they insisted upon.”

After a thorough investigation, Kantar and Nielsen found the consultant’s information to be correct and “very credible.” However, they failed to take any action, and continued to release tainted TV rating data every week.

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