For TV audiences, television ratings are the stuff of deep mystery. How exactly are they calculated, what’s the sample size of people whose viewing preferences are tracked – most of us don’t really know. All we know is that every Wednesday, market research agency TAM reveals the previous week’s ratings, which give us the pecking order of channels and shows.
But now, TAM is taking a ratings-free break (starting immediately) till 19 December. This is because cable digitization becomes compulsory from 1 November in four metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai (the rest of the country will follow suit by and by – and by the time 2015 is here, all of India should be covered). As of now, every household in these four cities must have a digital set-top box if they want to see TV shows after 1 November. And because the transition from analogue to digital might need a “settling in” period, the industry has decided to suspend ratings for nine weeks. So, as of now, no one will discover what the opening ratings of Colors’ new show, Bigg Boss Season 6 were. (Perhaps that’s a blessing; it would be singularly depressing if we discovered that the show had got stratospheric ratings). Or whether Diya Aur Bati is still the number one serial. Or how Zee’s music reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa is doing.
Which brings me to the question: in the absence of ratings, how will anyone (especially advertisers) know which are the popular shows with the highest ratings? They won’t. Which brings me to the next question: are TAM ratings the only way to figure out the popularity of shows? They’re not.
Because here’s the thing. A lot of people do watch TV in real time. But a significantly large number don’t. They either record the shows (a facility given by many providers) and watch them at their convenience or they watch them online. TAM doesn’t account for these viewers – but their number, already high, is only going to grow in the years to come. This is why you often come across puzzling situations where a show that plenty of people seem to really like doesn’t find adequate reflection in the list of top-rated shows. (By the way, this dichotomy is not unique to us; it exists in other countries too. Shows which figure in the most-popular lists on websites like Sidereel – which helps you to see shows online – are rarely top rated in the regular ratings. For example, many science fiction shows that are watched online by younger viewers are never big-rated shows. Also, online followings stretch across the world, so that’s an additional complication).
Back home too, there are quite a few examples. A serial like Star Plus’ Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, for instance, had a big online following but while it often made it to the top ten list, it was never the top show or even in the top three. (By the way, this is no reflection on the quality of the various shows; God knows that’s another story altogether).
So yes, of course, people are watching TV shows, but they don’t necessarily watch them on TV when the shows are being telecast. They see them when they want to, and where they want to: on TV or on the computer or on their tablets or mobiles.
Shouldn’t we take these viewers into account too?
Maybe this ratings break is a good excuse to find an answer to this question.