In a major shake-up in the broadcasting industry, some of India’s biggest television networks have decided to stop using Television Audience Measurement (TAM) Media Research data, the only mechanism to assess TV viewership in the country. While channels have complained against what they see as TAM’s ‘unfair trade practices’ and ‘flawed methodology’ for years, this is the first time broadcasters have decided to boycott the system altogether.

Multi-Screen Media (MSM) — owner of the Sony Network of Channels — the Times Television Network and the New Delhi Television (NDTV) have written to TAM to withdraw from the system. Network 18, which owns CNN-IBN and CNBC among other channels, has a subscription with TAM till December, but has decided ‘in principle’ to withdraw and ask TAM to refund their fees. If that does not happen, sources said they would forsake the amount and walk out. Other networks are expected to follow suit soon.

The Hindu reported on Friday that Sony was considering not renewing its subscription to TAM, and channels had expressed strong reservations against TAM at a recent meeting of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF).

Growing anger

Industry sources said the ‘anger’ against TAM was building up. The Hindu spoke to five senior channel representatives, who echoed each other, “It is better to have no currency than a wrong, corrupt, discredited and flawed currency.”

Man Jit Singh, MSM CEO and IBF president, said, “Even as the universe of television households is increasing, TAM data shows decreasing viewership. Why should we pay for the destruction of our own value?”

A top industry veteran, who did not wish to be identified, said, “Their panel size of 9000 metres is absolutely ridiculous for a country of India’s size and heterogeneity. Audiences are growing but TAM shows declining viewers to prevent ad rates from going up. This is because WPP, which owns 50 per cent of TAM, owns 60 per cent of advertising agencies in town.”

Another channel representative gave an example of how last week’s data had shown CNBC to have a zero rating in Delhi. “Can you believe it? It is a farce.”

IBF general secretary Shailesh Shah said individual organisations — and not the industry body — were taking decisions independently. “TAM is not effective anymore and every week when we see the data, we are driven up to the wall. It would have been funny, but for the fact that it affects the bottom-line.”

Mr. Shah, however, appeared to keep a window open for negotiations. “We need a currency. This is not a simple problem with a simple solution. The only way out is for TAM to get its act together.”

TAM CEO L. Krishnan could not be contacted on Saturday. But earlier in the week, he said that any move by a broadcaster to withdraw would be ‘unfortunate.’

Uday Kumar Verma, secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), said that while he had not seen the letters sent by channels, such a step ‘would put pressure on TAM to improve its system.’

“The ministry has been pursuing and pressuring the industry to come up with an independent and transparent model of viewership measurement. We will welcome any move that reflects viewership truly.”

The IBF has been working on creating its own industry measurement body, Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC), which will have separate entities installing metres, collecting data and analysing data.

Forty eight vendors have expressed interest, and the IBF hopes to have the system up and running by March, 2014. Till then, the industry sources said, broadcasters, who had chosen to unsubscribe from TAM, and advertisers could work out separate indicators to assess a channel’s reach and popularity.

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