Nielsen and BARC – unlikely allies in digital ad measurement

India had finally sorted out its broadcast audience research at the start of 2016 when a joint venture between Nielsen and WPP merged with a subsidiary of BARC India (Broadcasting Audience Research Council) to create a people meter based audience research system. BARC controls this by owning 51%.

Previous efforts from Nielsen and WPP’s Kantor had used too few people meters, because in India the industry does not earn much from each viewer, so they were was reluctant to spend enough to measure audiences properly.

But this week BARC has decided to embrace the Nielsen system for measuring digital viewing, which has been universally panned as too little too late. India anyway has a unique problem – while there are just over 17 million fixed broadband lines, India has 1 billion phone users and 300 million of them are smartphone users with WiFi connections. Cellular data is exceptionally cheap and there are government initiatives to promote WiFi. So people watch TV on their phones, or on one of the 100 million satellite TV homes out of India’s 248 million homes.

Cable is still watched, but on a falling number of homes, a touch above 60 million from a height of 78 million a few years ago. It tends to be analog with no return path and no broadband or two way amplifiers.

So this leave 68 million homes without any kind of TV, and these are more likely to watch video on a phone, over a cellular network. The only thing that is required to track this, rather than all the broadband sessions from the handful of fixed broadband lines, is an app on each phone – so why is the expensive and largely disliked Nielsen system being selected?

BARC said that it began the process with an RFI (Request for Information) then an RFP and a rigorous Proof of Concept (POC) using 3 shortlisted companies over 6 months. So how come India managed to choose the same system that is universally disliked, and which is regularly beaten in the market by rivals from the US? Would it have anything to do with pressure applied across the joint venture? God forbid.

We have an alternative suggestion to straight bribery. Perhaps the Broadcasting Foundation which set up BARC, has a vested interest in preventing all the video advertising impact being achieved on phones, in which it has little interest. So this is just a case of the Status Quo being endorsed, and do not expect video advertising on phones to be highly valued under this regime. However, Vodafone and Reliance and a few other MNOs might have a thing or two to say about their ad inventory being undervalued, as we are sure it will be. Look out for them opting to use a rival technology from BARC at some future point.

From here on in BARC India’s digital products will be powered by Nielsen, which will “eventually” integrate TV viewing and Digital viewing, but not yet. It is to be called the EKAM suite of products and it will measure all video including adverts, played across TV and Digital platforms.

Apparently a Digital Technical Committee was set up including representation from Google, Facebook, Hotstar, Voot, Ditto, P&G, HUL, Group M, IPG and Omnicom Media Group. And yet we are to believe they all agreed to using Nielsen? Unlikely we feel.