Did Sorrell Blow Off Pledge to Investigate TAM?
Largely overlooked in the coverage of New Delhi Television’s $1 billion-plus lawsuit against Nielsen and Kantar Media is the fact that Kantar parent WPP is also named as a defendant in the suit. Although WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is not specifically named as a defendant, the suit outlines a meeting he attended in India last year where NDTV executives complained vociferously about the shoddy and corrupt TV ratings product being delivered by a Nielsen-Kantar joint venture known as Television Audience Measurement (TAM) that measures TV audiences in India.
According to the suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court July 26, Sorrell made promises to look into the problems. The suit also suggests that he didn't follow up, given the fact that TAM kept issuing what the suit alleges were reports with inaccurate and falsified data.
The basic complaint from NDTV is that Nielsen and Kantar underfunded its India TV ratings service to such an egregious degree that competitors -- some owned or partially owned by unnamed Indian politicians -- could easily take steps to manipulate the data, often with bribes to household members where TAM ratings meters are located. According to the suit, some households, for example, would tune sets linked to meters to channels other than NDTV and then actually watch TV on sets not connected to the meters.
"The lack of funding by Nielsen and Kantar is the underlying cause that has led to the corruption of TAM data," the suit alleges. "The primary reason that data could be so easily manipulated in India was due to the persistent refusal of Nielsen and Kantar to provide adequate funds for TAM to increase its sample size and invest in the systems/quality/security procedures."
The suit details a meeting that Sorrell attended in New Delhi on Aug. 19, 2011. At least 20 people were in attendance including NDTV CEO Vikram Chandra, who expressed the view that many broadcasters favored some sort of government “intervention” into India's audience measurement business, “because the TAM system was broken.” The suit alleges that “Sir Martin assured Vikram that he would look into the complaint. Despite the said assurance and knowledge regarding the tampering of TAM data, publication of such data continues.”
WPP issued this reply in response to the suit: "Our lawyers are reviewing the claim but we are satisfied that there is no merit in any claim against WPP."