A lot of big decisions related to the content and advertising value chains are substantially, even entirely, predicated on audience measurement
By Paritosh Joshi
Opinions are fickle in a world where the firehose of news gushes unstoppably, and second hand points of view are available a dime a dozen in the social media. When the subject matter comprises celebrities, particularly of the stripe that actively seek out controversy, the opinion factory is rife with gossip, speculation, conspiracy theories, barbs, takedowns, and snark.
BARC has become the unwitting subject matter of much teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over the past quarter. And even as the commentariat from near and far are shocked, stupefied, and disappointed, BARC has fully supported investigative agencies and the unfolding legal process to get at the unalloyed truth, without fear or favour, concealment or artifice. That stolidness in the face of adversity should tell you all you need to know about the essential probity of its character.
Let us leave this here and move on, just as BARC must, and will.
“2020 was a watershed year”, you have heard repeated ad nauseam by now. At the risk of reploughing this furrow, it really was true of the Indian TV viewer and her viewing patterns.
• Average daily time spent rose from 226 minutes at the end of December 2019 to 257 minutes as we got to the end of 2020.
• This widened the average width of a viewer’s repertoire: from 16 channels in 2019 to 19 by the end of 2020.
• People began to watch TV more regularly, and as many as 300 million out of the daily reach of 600 million watched for all seven days of the week.
• Aggregate TV consumption peaked in a given week peaked at 43% above pre-COVID
levels, eventually settling down to a 22% gain over 2019.
There is great excitement in the world of digital media, and in particular, video streaming, about what 2020 did for the OTT world. Some numbers first:
• Smartphone users were already spending 202 minutes per day on their screen at the end of 2019. By mid-April 2020, time spent had risen to 234 minutes. The period since has seen a secular decline in smartphone usage, and our smartphone habit at the end of 2020 was back to about 200 minutes per day.
• The latest generation of TVs categorise as ‘smart’ given that they can render internet-delivered services without the use of an appliance like Google Chromecast or Amazon Firestick. Older TVs have been smartened by these add ons, and the notion of streaming to the main TV has enjoyed rising popularity. In such homes, as much as 25% of television usage has now been captured by OTT and other online video services.
• In an interesting departure from previous periods, news plays a growing role in streaming video consumption. This may have something to do with viewer perceptions of the broadcast news genre and it should give pause to content strategists at the networks.
If there is a single takeaway from this data it ought to be this: TV and Streaming are not zero-sum. Evidence suggests that both can grow together. This creates interesting opportunities for making the two screens work in tandem, in complementary roles. This is not lost on the majors on either side of this ‘nominal’ divide. What used to be a yawning chasm, when YouTube launched 15 years ago, has now become a hazy, shrinking line-of-control. The fusion of the old and new worlds will be done and dusted, before YouTube celebrates its two decades in December 2025.
This is the video consumption landscape to which BARC must now address itself.
France and the UK have shown the way for where media audience measurement needs to go next. In the UK, a grand coalition of measurement bodies covering television, radio, direct mail and the published media now contributes to and publishes IPA TouchPoints, “a 360-degree view of people’s daily lives and all the information you need to successfully implement cross-media channel planning.” In France, Médiamétrie promises that “Médiamat, the benchmark television audience measurement, will incorporate daily audiences for the 4 screens (TV, smartphone, tablets, computers) for all channels, thanks to data from online TV consumption (site-centric tags).”
Video content now reaches close to 1 billion people out of our population of 1.3 billion. A lot of big decisions related to the content and advertising value chains are substantially, even entirely, predicated on audience measurement. From capital investment in new content and broadcast businesses to bread-and-butter decisions on the components of the next media plan, there is a wide array of constituencies which predicate significant cashflows on it.
It isn’t as if India has an embarras de richesse by way of industry bodies which could pick up this critical baton and run with it. To be clear, at this time, there is just the one, and it is called BARC.
Here, finally, is a new year prediction. Expect a reinvigorated BARC to shake off all the grime of last year’s dustups and set course for India’s own cross-screen, and eventually, cross-media, measurement system.
The author is principal, Provocateur Advisory. He serves on the BARC Disciplinary Council. Views expressed are personal.