Media planners swear by it. Clients abide by it. And channels use them to claim their bouquet is the best. So what if the TV programme rating industry is relatively new and covers only a few of the nation's 60 million TV households. It helps measure viewers' programme preferences, be it news or entertainment.
Multiple gadgets and methods have flooded a market where a few years ago there was only personalised data collection. There are five variations of the peoplesmeter which measures the viewers' pulse. However, their reach is limited to 3,000-4,000 households across 27-33 cities whereas Dr Ravi Murthy, GM, org-Marg says: "Ratings for news programming will acquire a new dimension only when we cover a large number of respondents from 150 or 200 cities and small towns."
Yet, recent studies show interesting trends in both changing viewership patterns and TV programming, according to Shankara Pillai, who heads the Indian National TV Audience Measurement division of org-Marg. One such study showed share of news and soaps increasing over time in both rural and urban markets over mythological and historical serials, primarily because most of them were re-runs. "News shouldn't be seen in isolation and in comparison with soaps and serials; it should be analysed in a perspective. News has increased its viewership and carved a segmented viewership. It has also acquired the repeatability factor. TV news also competes with newspapers and magazines as well," says imrb president Ramesh Thadani.
Thadani's observations are borne out by fcb-Ulka's study, showing that though news, sports and serials were favoured, watching news-based programmes was primarily a habit of those interviewed. A 30 per cent segment watched news-English and Hindi-regularly while another 4 per cent watched news at least thrice a week.
"The news and current affairs market will grow at a slow pace because viewership growth will always be linked to major developments like Kargil, natural calamities or elections," says Thadani. "It's only India where news watching is not hampered by global sports events like World Cup soccer or cricket. On the contrary, news viewership increases phenomenally."
Among channels, viewership on DD remains high due to the channel's tremendous reach, which researchers claim help the marketing efforts of software production houses making programmes for it. But in terms of credibility, bbc and Star News emerged as frontrunners. Both also scored high on retention values, analysis, special interviews and reports, quick updates and diversity. Star News drew a large number of viewers because of its distinct generation identity factor; DD was deemed to score in in mini metros and rural areas where liberalisation was yet to make an impact. Zee News, the study found, was catching the viewers' fancy because of its analysis and diversity of news-based programmes.