After a careful and thorough process of validation and independent audit, four media industry bodies have collectively declared that the Indian Readership Survey Findings (2013), conducted under a new methodology, was accurate and would now be available to all users.
This puts at rest, once and for all, the debate over the past six months wherein some readership figures had witnessed a dip compared to past surveys, thereby prompting some publishers to raise questions about IRS’ accuracy.
The fact that four umbrella bodies — Media Research Users Council (MRUC), Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI), Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) — have all accepted these findings highlights overwhelming industry consensus and support for IRS 2013.
An MRUC press release explained the steps of the review process.
RSCI, constituted by both MRUC and ABC, had embarked on a revalidation exercise after differing views on the survey’s accuracy, and asked subscribers to hold the study in abeyance till then.
A subcommittee with two co-chairs — representing publishers and advertising agencies — was constituted, and this body held that the methodology adopted was correct.
The statement said it had then commissioned a process audit, and awarded it to Praveen Tripathi, “one of India’s foremost experts on large scale studies of media consumption behaviour”.
This audit was conducted in two stages. “Stage one involved direct back-checking of respondent homes.” The second step was “a much broader and deeper Forensic Statistical Analysis exercise”, which identified and isolated “both fieldwork compliance deficiencies and incidence of the occurrence of Unusual Publication Incidence in respondent interview records”. The audit “conclusively and unequivocally” judged that statistical deviations had not impacted study results and crucial readership outputs.
“After intense deliberations and careful examination of the audit report, chairman -- MRUC, chairman -– RSCI, president -– INS and chairman -– ABC, have arrived at a unanimous and unambiguous decision to lift the voluntary abeyance placed on the IRS, 2013.”
This has been greeted with much relief by the media and the marketing community since the previous set of data they had been using was based on fieldwork from two years ago and had ceased to be relevant.
Media planners, who spoke to HT in confidence, said they had been waiting precisely for this announcement to begin using the new IRS.
The new survey, which had the backing of all media houses, including ones who later objected to its findings, aimed to establish a “gold standard” in assessing readership. A new leading global research agency was hired, and a new method adopted.
It had four distinct changes from the past models. Unlike a pen-and-paper method, a unique double-screened computerised system was introduced; instead of using projected population statistics based on 2001 census for cities and towns, real data based on 2011 census was used; instead of asking readers what they had read in the past year, they were asked what they had read in the past month; and there was a more representative sample size.
Those at the forefront of this approach suggested that it would be wrong to compare the past surveys with the current one – this should be seen as a fresh start, and future surveys under the same method must be used for the comparative frame. The next round of IRS findings is expected early September.
Industry veterans believe that the entire media industry should now respect the sanctity of the process and method. A new scientific method has been adopted; its results have been revalidated; and instead of seeing it as a zero sum game, all media companies should treat it as the new template – which would provide a healthy parameter for readers, advertisers, ad agencies and media planners to decide their preferences. No survey can be totally foolproof for it is meant to be a best estimate of the larger universe. But it is expected that data will mature, improvements will be introduced, and the survey will become even more accurate to represent the true market construct.