Repost + Update: Isn’t it time to re-look how TRPs are measured?

Few days back ( last week of July 2012) – NDTV filed lawsuit against Nielsen for manipulating TV & viewership data. Medianama highlighted few key notes from that – posted here. Later learned that even Prasar Bharati was considering legal action against TAM.

All of this reminded me of one of the posts I wrote last year (May 2011) – Isn’t it time to re-look how TRPs are measured?. Re-posting the same with small edits to reflect change over recent events and few additional notes.


This post is dedicated to John Wanamaker, credited for setting advertising standards and considered by few as father of advertising. John Wanamaker died in 1922. Had John lived today – he would have some interesting quotes to share on RoI in digital advertising. This post is inspired by one of his very famous quotes – “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

The term RoI became a buzz word ever since Digital advertising started to gain prominence in last few years. Talk to any brand manager today on digital spends through any channel – Search, Social, Display or Email – his quick conclusion on effectiveness of any campaign will be based on ROI. Online advertising has taught digital media professionals to be ROI-driven.

Pitch any campaign today on Digital – both Brand Manager and the Digital Marketer sound no less than a Investment Bankers trying to advice its client on a multi-million dollar deal discussing on its investment, returns, profitability and more. The same Brand Manager or Media Buyer will simply look at TRPs of any channel/program and allocate about 50% of its media spends to Television, distribute a significant chunk between Outdoors, Newspapers, Radio and leave a minuscule 5%-10% to Digital.

Well, this post is not about how Digital Medium today is perceived as ROI driven. This is very unlikely to change in coming years, maybe it is standard now. The question to raise is – isn’t it time to re-look how TRP ratings are measured rather than blindly accepting the reports as provided?

First – to know more about what is TRP and how they are measured using people meters – read this excellent post on Television Point.

For those who have not seen a People Meter – here is one below:

People Meter

credit: image source


Here are some questions usually asked about the authenticity of TRP ratings –

  • In India – TRP People Meters are installed only in 16 cities across 9 states; Less than 10,000 people meters are installed – would they be good enough to reflect insights on Television Viewership of a country as large and diverse in demographics & culture as India? (TAM on its about us section says 8150 homes in over 165 cities & towns.)
  • There is little or no transparency on number of households with People Meters installed, techniques of data collection & interpretation, and how the data is extrapolated to whole population. Are there any validations if the meters were correctly operated (they look difficult to operate) and data collected the way it should have been?
  • People Meters were always perceived as expensive devices since invention; with advancements in technology – why have the People Meters not proliferated to a wider reach? This QnA on Nielsen website suggests the cost is $5000 per year (which includes multiple operating and labor costs). Btw, a technologically advanced device like iPhone is much cheaper!
  • Is there any control by Government authorities on collection of this data and authenticity of same.
  • How will any marketer, advertiser or broadcaster challenge authenticity of the TRP ratings released.

And in world of digital economy, let me add few more questions to above arguments –

  • Now people are socially connected through social networks, it is very difficult to spot people who mention they have subscribed to People Meters (note – it is mentioned that their identity is secret.)
  • On Google’s image global index – there are not many images when you search for “people meter”.

In today’s world anything that happens in offline world leaves a footprint online. Absence of digital footprint for “people meter” wants me to question the proliferation of such devices in real world.


The DTH Effect –

Direct-to-Home (DTH) or Satellite Televisions are today immensely popular amongst masses. In India – its reach is 44 Million subscribers in November 2011; and India is probably the world leader in DTH subscriptions now. 44 Million would be a better representation of viewership data – compared to the dismal < 10,000 people meters installed in India.

aMap works with DTH service providers – but it is unlikely to capture data across all subscribers and might be following the people meter approach. Brand Managers are believed to be more inclined towards TRP ratings provided by TAM for decision making while aMap ratings are for reference.

Its most unfortunate if DTH platforms are unable to track viewership data. That is like Air Traffic Controllers saying – there are 500 planes in skies today – we are unaware of their origins & destinations, can confirm with pilots only when they land.


TRP Measurement – Its time to Change!
Fundamentally – People Meter approach will always be poor representation of the population. As spends on digital media start increasing and reaches a critical mass, sooner or later TRP measurement will be questioned by same decision makers who accept it blindly today.

Existing global players like Nielson, TNS, & others involved need to look beyond people meters – either with a better people meter / larger base for viewership data / or else a Government, TAM or another Neutral agency making it mandatory for DTH service providers to track viewership patterns.

Fortunately or Unfortunately, the future of TRP & GRP measurement will be digital. Here is overview of how possibly TRPs will be measured in digital world –

  • Develop applications across digital channels – Internet, Mobile (Java, iOS, Blackberry, Android, Symbian and others)
  • For every location (geo by country / location) – populate information stream of programs currently broadcasted at that time.
  • Allow users to select the programs they viewed and report the same back to the measuring system through the applications.
  • User demographics will known at time of App-Registration / FB Connect / or otherwise.

There may be ways to authenticate user viewership patterns. Instead of focusing on data collection through people meters, with same efforts & resources – it will be possible to crowdsource viewership data for programs and channels across millions of users – all in real time. The challenge for this apps will be – what incentive will consumers have to report such data.

Had toyed the idea of crowdsourcing public data – on Twitter / Facebook in real time to develop a WRP (Web Rating Points for Television Viewership). But for now this too might be a challenge – currently it is reflection of TIER 1/2 audience hooked on to Social Networking, which too will be a poor representation of diverse India (maybe another set of ratings that will be questionable like TRPs); Another challenge being – its far more easier to create duplicate accounts on Facebook / Twitter and further much easier to manipulate ratings.

Like many internet products today follow the rule – mobile first, web later; Television viewership in few years will be – digital first. And so will the viewership ratings or measurements too. You never know – maybe a or will provide us the future TRPs. Please glance through some of earlier thoughts shared on – The Future of Television.

Even in India, we are seeing a bunch of startups building products around Television Content – like iStream, iDubba, WhatsOnIndia, others. There is definitely some opportunity here for viewership tracking when ‘digital first’ television behavior picks up.

Future Prediction – by the year 2022 (exactly 100 years after John Wanamaker passed away) – people meters and traditional TRP measuring practices will be obsolete. They will be measured through digital medium! John Wanamaker would have proudly said – “Thanks to Digital, I know exactly which half of my advertising money is wasted!”