On Friday, April 26, 2019, even as people fell over themselves to catch the first day first show of the latest action adventure fantasy flick Avengers: Endgame, another Superhero - Print - emerged in the Media & Entertainment industry, growing consistently stronger and showing off its fabulous numbers. The release of Indian Readership Survey (IRS) Q1 2019 data by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) showed dailies adding 1.8 crore additional readers since IRS 2017, and magazines increasing readership by 90 lakh – together taking the total number of readers in the country up from 40.7 crore to an impressive 42.5 crore.
Though the launch event itself was devoid of the hype and hoopla of the mega launch of the new and improved IRS 2017 in January last year, the numbers and improved methodology gave the industry enough reason to cheer. IRS Q1 2019 is a Moving Annual Total combining Q2+Q3+Q4 data of IRS 2017 and Q1 data of IRS 2019 – as MRUC moves from annual publication of readership data to a quarterly cycle. The next data release will have two quarters of 2019 data along with the last two quarters of 2017 IRS data.
“All media is growing, and Print continues to grow despite the general belief that Print is declining. Readership is largely influenced by two things - literacy level and your disposable income. If you have money, then only will you buy a newspaper. Luckily in India, both those things have moved upwards,” says Ashish Bhasin, CEO - Greater South and Chairman & CEO - India, Dentsu Aegis Network and Chairman, MRUC. “Now the intent is to make the data automatic, ongoing and quarterly,” he adds.
HOW THE RESEARCH FARED
IRS Q1 2019, with a reporting sample size of 3,24,000 households, did not turn up any major skews in terms of any publication’s numbers or overall trends. The only surprise was that data for English daily Hindustan Times and Hindi Hindustan were not included in IRS Q1 2019. The reason given by MRUC is that the re-checking of data for the publication is still pending, and it would be updated and included in a short time.
Post release of IRS data last year, no field work was undertaken and there was a gap of almost a year before research work re-started in November-December 2018 and went on up to March-April 2019. According to industry sources, MRUC this time wanted to ensure that they recovered enough funds from subscribers and stake-holders before embarking on field work. “We didn’t start the research until we had the funding. Once the funds were in, we went ahead,” confirms Bhasin. According to him, there were other on-ground issues too, because of which the survey could not get under way.
So how robust would the current IRS data be for publishers and media planners? “The media had found the IRS 2017 survey robust. This time, three rounds from that survey have been taken along with data from one new quarter. If the last IRS was robust, surely this one cannot be different. But as we move to a rolling study, we will see stability as opposed to spikes which result from delayed data gathering and release,” says Hormusji N Cama, Director, Mumbai Samachar.
HOW TR FARED versus AIR
The MRUC had made a major shift in the way it would report readership numbers in IRS 2017. While earlier Average Issue Readership (AIR) collating the last one day of readership data was the currency used by media planners and advertisers, the new system moved to Total Readership (TR) that captures readership data over a period of one month. As TR went up from 36.8% in 2017 to 37.3% in Q1 2019, the AIR was almost flat from 16.6% in 2017 to 16.1% in Q1 2019. Similar figures were seen for both AIR and TR in Hindi and Regional dailies, but for English publications, AIR stood at the same figure as in 2017, while TR went up from 2.7% to 2.9%. “English is a special call-out, because last time there was a drop in AIR of English publications; this time it seems to be holding or growing,” says Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO Madison Media & OOH, Madison World and IRS Technical Committee Chairman.
With respect to the Top 20 dailies (All India) while Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar and Amar Ujala take the top three spots in terms of TR and AIR, Malayala Manorama (Daily) which is in No. 7 position in terms of TR, climbs to No. 4 spot in terms of AIR. Daily Thanthi, which stands at No. 4 in terms of TR, goes to No. 7 spot in terms of AIR. Lokmat goes from No. 5 in TR to No. 9 in AIR and Rajasthan Patrika climbs one spot from No.6 of TR to No.5 of AIR.
Among Top 10 Hindi publications, positions in terms of TR and AIR have not changed much. Dainik Jagran takes the top slot with 73,673 TR followed by Dainik Bhaskar at 51,405 (a massive jump from 45,105), and Amar Ujala and Rajasthan Patrika follow. In AIR, the rankings remain the same, except for the AIR of Amar Ujala sliding marginally from 11,166 to 10,183.
Among Top 10 dailies, All India, English, while the top four positions remain the same in both TR and AIR with The Times of India, The Hindu, The Economic Times and Mumbai Mirror holding fort; The Indian Express, The New Indian Express and The Tribune which are placed 5th, 6th, 7th, respectively give way to The Telegraph to take the 5th spot in AIR.
Regional publications have seen the most upheaval in their top 10 rankings with reference to TR and AIR. While Malayala Manorama (Daily) is third in terms of TR with Daily Thanthi and Lokmat taking top two positions, in terms of AIR, Malayala Manorama is in the top slot followed by Eenadu at second position which in terms of TR is fourth. Lokmat drops to fifth spot in AIR, while Mathrubhumi which is fifth in TR, stands fourth in AIR.
NO sign of ABC DATA YET
During the launch of IRS 2017, the MRUC office-bearers had mentioned that they were working on aligning the softwares of research company Nielsen, used for IRS, and that of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) so that both readership and circulation data can be placed side by side for better comprehension. However, it appears that this initiative is still work-in-progress. “Nielsen software for IRS is very complicated and to make any change in it is a huge task. We still have to wait for the stage where the two databases can be made compatible and can be put on a single software. It is our intent to put them both together and we are working on it,” says Bhasin.
“It’s actually a question of priority. We were really prioritizing field controls, and we brought in a whole lot of new measures. I would love to see ABC and IRS figures together. It requires a couple of things. One, the entire algorithm to map the editions with the districts into studies. And two, a software which allows a contiguity of data of these two. Both these require some work. So it has just been a question of prioritising in the last six months where we have gone completely for digitization of the research process. But it is on the agenda,” adds Sakhuja. On being asked how soon we can expect to see ABC and IRS data together, he says, “I won’t set a date, but I would love to say the next reporting quarter… at least we should have some distinct progress by then…”
Is Digital growth aiding Print numbers?
IRS Q1 2019 shows a total of 384 million active Internet users, which is a growth of 24% of the total universe. However, the question arises as to whether digital consumption of newspapers or magazines lends a halo effect to Print readership numbers.
“It is important to understand that these numbers could also be a reflection of the digital amplification each of the media companies have done for their platforms. So, it is also possibly a reflection of that. I suspect the IRS has not been able to segregate who is a Digital reader and who is a Print reader and that is possibly one of the reasons why there is a huge skew with some media organisations and their numbers, which is absurd in some cases,” points out Indranil Roy, CEO, Outlook Group.
Meanwhile, another consumer behavioural factor coming out from the data is the skew towards NCCS (New Consumer Classification System) A, B and C category consumers and shrinking of D & E strata. Especially in urban areas, the NCCS - ABC consumer strata formed 81% of NCCS distribution. This perhaps calls for a relook at the basic parameters for NCCS classification on the basis of owning certain household goods which have become all too common nowadays.