A move to announce the viewer ratings of news channels once a month – rather than the current weekly announcement – has spurred opposition from advertisers as well as some channels. The media research agency which releases the ratings has refused to implement the change until it receives written consent from all stakeholders.

The decision to shift from weekly to monthly ratings for all national news and business channels in Hindi and English was announced by the News Broadcasters Association on Thursday, citing an effort to improve news standards.

“News channels, being distinct from other genres, have a responsibility to inform and empower its viewers with quality programming…rather than providing content merely for garnering viewership,” said an NBA statement. Insisting that news programming cannot always be linked to popularity or audience measurement, the NBA said that standards could “only improve with time spent on strategic planning and research rather than knee jerk reactions taken on a weekly basis.”

It added that the changes were expected to be implemented from October, initially for two years, and eventually the monthly format would be implemented for regional news channels as well.

Some channels have welcomed the move. NDTV's senior managing editor Sonia Singh deplored the way that news channel marketing often includes advertisements claiming the “No.1 position” on the basis of fragmented weekly ratings. “It's almost become like the Friday Box Office,” she said. “For the news business, content should be king.”

The senior editor at a leading Hindi news channel agreed: “Weekly TRPs are one of the reasons for the dumbing down of news channels,” he said. “The sword is always hanging over your head that by Wednesday [when viewership ratings are released], you've to prove you are the best.”

However, this is not a universal view: industry sources say some of the opponents of the shift include those with representatives on the NBA Board which mooted the proposal in the first place. “Worldwide, the trend is toward daily ratings, so shifting in the other direction to monthly ratings seems rather strange,” said the senior editor of a leading English news channel. “Every industry needs benchmarks. The big advertisers are simply not going to stand for this.”

The NBA statement insisted the shift “would not in any way hamper the decision making of advertisers and advertising agencies” because they would continue to get access to data broken down to a minute or a day-part or a specific programme.

Advertisers not happy

Advertisers are not happy with the NBA's unilateral announcement. “[Monthly ratings] would be difficult to implement, because the advertisers who are putting their money into this, want day-to-day information,” said Nagesh Alai, who heads advertising agency Draft FCB in the region. He is also president of the Advertising Agencies Association of India, but emphasised that he was speaking in his individual capacity. While the NBA held a “cursory” meeting with the Advertising Agencies Association of India two months ago, there were no detailed discussions or tacit agreement to go ahead with the shift, said Mr. Alai.

Television Audience Management, better known as the TAM Media Research agency, which actually compiles and releases the ratings, has refused to implement the NBA's decision.

TAM chief executive L.V. Krishnan says the NBA was told on September 6 that it must first discuss its proposal with other industry stakeholder associations including those representing advertisers, advertising agencies, and other general entertainment channels who all use the same TAM database.

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