Dipped in Witriol
It is indeed most unfortunate that the apparent bonhomie among television news channels (reported last week in The Hoot) has been short lived. Pooling news, to cut costs and to avoid repeatedly recording “exclusives”, has been overtaken by a truly sensational happening. The 194-page law suit demanding a compensation of USD 1.3 billion filed on July 26 by NDTV in a New York court against Nielsen and Kantar Media Research which run Television Audience Rating (TAM) has triggered shock waves in the industry.
Prannoy Roy & Co alleged that TAM’s data have been manipulated and fixed to dish out “corrupt” viewership figures to show some channels in good light at the cost of NDTV. The entire controversy has reportedly opened up what is referred to as some Pandora’s Box. Incidentally, all efforts to contact Ms. P (the first woman on earth according to the Greeks) did not yield much other than a curt reply that these days she prefers a Black Jacquard Backpack from Gucci and has given up on her box. With that she switched off her Heavenberry and efforts to contact her on her immobile (celestial version of a landline) were in vain because a recorded message merely said she had quit the European Union.
Well, that aside, the immediate fallout of NDTV’s legal action has been the Big Fight in the industry coming out into the open. So, here is what we have: in the red corner TAM, Nielsen and Kantar Media Research, and two national news channels; and in the blue, NDTV and the others. In fact, equations have dramatically changed overnight proving that in television, as in politics, ten days, a week, or even single day can be a long time. Today’s friends can be tomorrow’s foes and vice versa.
Anyway, to move on, those in the blue corner have already had an emergency meeting--much like those Cabinet meetings that are held at 7 Race Course Road--in which a few significant moves were discussed. Among these was the decision to launch an alternative viewership gauging agency to take on TAM. “I am proud to announce that the navy is with us in our endeavour,” said the first speaker, a wiry emaciated gent from a Hindi channel who looked more like a character from a William Burroughs novel. “Several out-of-work ratings from the navy have already offered their services to install and monitor people meters (a device that records which channel was watched and for how long) to ensure favourable results,” he added for good measure.
But what would this new agency be called? Several suggestions were thrown up. Someone came up with TAM-ASHA (rejected because it sounded too close to The Times Of India’s Indo-Pak amity campaign, Aman ki Asha). Then there was TAMS THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ (many felt that was too Bob Dylan for comfort). And TAM-BRAHMS sounded like a group of western classical musicians from Chennai. There was this rather vocal honcho from a channel in the south who wanted the gathering to consider setting up a dozen different TAM agencies. “Imagine the confusion. Media planners will have to compare TAM-1’s ratings with that of the other 11 TAMS. It will be a case of here a TAM, there a TAM, everywhere a TAM.”
Finally, after much deliberation, the name found acceptable was courtesy two gentlemen present—Messers Tamper and Temper. The two were heavily built and dangerous looking cable distributors who could flex their muscle and crack jokes like people meters cannot be “sentimeters” while forcing entire families to watch a channel. In short, they were the kind of people you wouldn’t want to meet even in a well-lit alley. And yet, at another level, they were known to be large hearted and didn’t protest when the audience mockingly laughed at Mr. Tamper when he pointed out that “a rolling stone gathers no “moses”!
In fact, the duo looked rather pleased that their names were being associated with the new rating agency which was christened TAMPER & TEMPER (T&T) Associates. They applauded every speaker as the plot slowly unfolded through the evening. “This will change history,” said a beaming Mr. Tamper who in real life believed that people get the TV news channels they deserve. Mr. Temper, on his part, vented his emotions by emitting a loud wolf whistle. For the record, he never relied on TV for the latest news, preferring a glass of Nashik red to figure out what was in the grapevine.
Anyway, at long last, the meeting got down to business and a few broad points were agreed upon:
* There would be a new rating agency (T&T) manned by naval ratings.
* It will cover one lakh homes and each TV set will be switched on to a particular channel for an hour by executive ratings. In all, 24 channels will benefit from this every day. All subscribers (read friendly TV stations) will be given their hour of glory on other days of the week. (One hour of the idiot box tuning into a channel considerably boosts TRP ratings.)
* At no point will any member of the households covered be forced to watch a channel. The TV provided by T&T will run on mute in a secluded corner of the house.
* Incentives such as a free holiday in the hills, chewing gum for the kids and a quarterly payment of a few thousand rupees will be provided under the “earn while you don’t watch” scheme.
* Every month T&T will also release an opinion poll among viewers. The questionnaire will, among other things, show particular channels/anchors in poor light. It will make a case for not watching some shows and have leading questions as to which detergent the viewer thinks of when he/she surfs.
* Both Messers Tamper and Temper will conduct sting operations to catch representatives of TAM calling on the households that have sworn allegiance to T&T. Copies of the spy cam recordings will be made public and telecast on friendly networks along with an anti-TAM rating song. Its lyric, an absolute original, kicks off like this: “A bad old man he had a TAM/ Ee i ee i oh! / And on that TAM he baked some 'bread'/ Ee i ee i oh! (To inspire the lyric writer--a veteran at songs for children and adults who refuse to grow up--a case of Absolut Vodka has already been provided).
The extraordinary meeting concluded after four long hours with all present swearing that they will support the new effort to end the monopoly of TAM. It was also roundly agreed that T&T’s brave mariners would steer the industry from “choppy seas to calmer waters.” Emotions soon began to run high peaking with a retired captain, representing the seamen, standing up among the audience and singing the old Rod Stewart hit Sailing. The surprising thing was that though he was singing off key everyone joined in…