RadioandMusic
| 19 Jul 2019
TAM Media Research VP Pradeep Hejmadi - If the industry doesn't believe in RAM, why have they made content and programming changes?

Launched in October 2007, Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) is dealing with resentment from the Indian FM radio industry for alleged inconsistency in its listenership data.

Amid accusations by radio broadcasters, TAM Media Research vice president Pradeep Hejmadi, in conversation with Radioandmusic.com's Anita Iyer, expresses his anguish over the discord with the radio industry, speaks about challenges of launching a radio measurement system and discusses possible resolutions to the festering issue.

Excerpts-

Have broadcasters approached you regarding the alleged inconsistency issues they have witnessed?

We welcome feedback but for many broadcasters Radio Audience Measurement is a new phenomenon. In the radio industry, the content is commoditised and all the stations play the same music with finer lines of differentiation. The issue is that broadcasters have a preconceived notion that audiences should behave in a prescribed way and when that fails, issues of ÔÇ?inconsistency' arise.

The purpose of research is defeated as the broadcasters use it to corroborate their predetermined hypotheses. The measurement techniques, reporting cycle, validation process are absolutely consistent. Although such quantum shifts have been happening in the past as well, the radio industry is holding us at ransom due to pressure from other factors like business squeezes, competition etc.

We are in discussions with broadcasters and are resolving their issues. Most of the broadcasters who have come to us have seen positive outcome that they have applied to the business.

The industry has been raising issues about the diary method adopted by RAM

While setting up the system, we bought all the methodologies before the industry and discussed the merits and demerits. We are providing a panel which allows them to make changes, promote properties, and study the impact of listening in a market which is not available in aggregated data. We provided an option of aggregated data and mentioned that the methodology will change, costs might increase and it was their decision to adopt the diary method. We also asked the industry if they need to increase the sample size- the current designed sample is 480 and we operating at 520. Increasing the sample size will help further cuts, based on gender, SECs, city splits, region splits but still at an aggregate level it won't change anything. Although we placed the proposal last year, we haven't received any response from the broadcastersá

There have been rumours about RAM data being rigged because of loop holes in the diary method.

We have been transparent in the methodology adopted and the measurement techniques, reporting cycle, validation process are absolutely transparent. If we see major changes in the entry of the respondents, the supervisor concerned double checks the information. Secondly, all the diaries are double punched and validations are recorded. In cases of major changes in listenership in one pocket, we check if similar changes are happening in other areas and sometimes the quantum of change is fairly large. It is only after these validations that data is released in the market.

What is your reaction that the radio industry which created RAM is now bonding against you?

It is a sad fact that the industry created the system and now is against it. The system came into being after a lot of hard work and investment from the industry and TAM research. We took a lot of time to decide if we want to get into radio measurement as television was already taking up lot of our bandwidth. We went through realms of pressure in getting IMRB International and Nielsen Media Research involved and are disappointed by the turn of events. It will be unfortunate if the industry wants to put off diary method.

How have you dealt with such issues in the past?

We basically go back to them and work closely with them on specific blocks as their consultants and show them how they can apply research to strengthen their ratings. Many stations used contests and prizes to lure listeners but when recession hit, budgets were curtailed and they lost listenersá

The issue here also is that radio programmers think that research interferes in their creativity. We work on each one of them of their thesis and they give reckoning solutions. But the programmers need to understand that radio is a kiss- kill business and once the audiences detach themselves from a property they need to move on. We have been transparent in the way we report the system but the sad thing is nobody acknowledges that and all the issues are based on fiction.

Advertisers have increased their revenue spend on radio; they acknowledge the listenership changes in RAM data. If the industry doesn't believe in our data, why have they made content and programming changes?

Ironically, radio broadcasters who have been gaining mileage according to RAM data are also part of the bandwagon raising doubts about RAM.

These stations are at the top because of one or two slots and in some markets, radio stations are not completely toppers as there are certain slots they have already lost. Once a station is successful in achieving the top position, other broadcaster learns and replicates it. Also talent moves from one broadcaster to another and replicates the findings at the competitor stationá

The industry accepted data and packaged their programming suiting the demand of the listeners. They started suffering because of their business strategies by selling spots at lower price and RAM didn't create that scenario. We gave them audience size and the advertisers evaluated it and invested accordingly. Further the radio stations blaming RAM for it is not acceptableá

Radio broadcasters have been vocal about adopting electronic measurements. What are your views on the same?

Adopting electronic measurement will come with its own face of challenges, when deployed it will still require the industry to understand the data and accept the reality of the data. There would be three issues of concern- first is the cost of the technology, second the viability of the technology asá across the world, electronic measurement is not a currency standard and third is the ability to administer the technology in our country. Also, electronic data will give minute to minute data changes and if radio broadcasters can't digest quarterly changes, it is a question if they would accept electronicá

RAM has completed two years, what were the challenges you had to face during the launch?

Most of the challenges continue and are constant as broadcasters change according to their positioning. For us, training, dissemination of understanding, application of research to the business is a huge challenge. Broadcasters are not comfortable pulling negative numbers and we have people from different practices who have come into radio- professionals from advertising, sales are handling programming at most stations. These people come from a different world and when we bring research to apply to their business, acceptability is a slow and gradual processá

We made zero money and the kind of money we have spent on radio audience measurement is significant. The initial phase of getting the panel together was extremely strenuous as we were under tremendous pressure on deadline by the broadcasters. The industry kept dragging us to take the medium seriously and come up with a data to measure it. We do not proceed if we do not get compliance to our reports, so Bangalore launch slipped by a few weeks. Now, this phase has come and I hope collectively we would go through a phase of learning to make the medium more robust and not dismantle the system.

Will allegations of inconsistency by the radio broadcasters in four metros hurt the Chennai and Hyderabad RAM launch?

It will. The large chunk of the industry is the broadcasters and unfortunately cannot see that the pie will grow much bigger and all the issues are to be ignored. We are seriously contemplating in creating bigger and wider research, we do make plans every year on what markets to enter, the funding model and then broadcaster can subscribeáá

Advertisers demand more market and have asked us to increase the number of stations as such information is important to place advertising. But given the fact that it builds pressure on the broadcasters given the size of the team, trained professional to create programming suiting the data is restraining the launch in other cities. We plan to fund from our parent company, start expanding and then get the industry to subscribe the service in particular marketsá

What is the way ahead to resolve the impasse between radio broadcasters and RAM?

We have had issues in the past as well and have been successful in solving them but now it is blown into a bigger concern. The broadcasters understand the importance of RAM and know that they cannot do without research. We entered the scenario when all the stations claimed they were Number 1, which wasn't true and getting advertisers was not easy. We have come to an era where there is more objectivity and we appreciate that there are concerns.

If the broadcasters insist on issues and do not wish to subscribe, we will figure out a system to keep this going as radio requires measurement and we are not going to drop it. We know that it is in the interest of everyone to adopt the system, so we will go through phases of denial, acceptance and rediscovering the mediumá

As the market gets more complicated, there would a lot more hypothesis and we need to deal with it. In the two years, many people have criticized us, mellowed down, adopted learning, acknowledged and rubbished parts of our data and it is a continuous process.

Send in your comments to: anita.iyer@indiantelevision.co.in