India ratings dispute between WPP and NDTV is in danger of turning into a diplomatic incident

Indian broadcaster NDTV (New Delhi TV) is suing WPP, claiming that Indian TV ratings system TAM, which is jointly owned by WPP’s Kantar Media and arch-rival Nielsen, is “corrupt,” falsely reducing its programme ratings and therefore its finances.

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell has been drawn into the fight (which he should probably have avoided or left to Kantar boss Eric Salama). There’s a full account of the to-ings and fro-ings to date in this report from Best Media Info. Interestingly Nielsen seems less than fully supportive of its partner in TAM.

NDTV boss Vikram Chandra (pictured) has rather cleverly framed the dispute as a case of David versus Goliath, Goliath in this case being ‘£10bn WPP’ in his description, riding roughshod over a much smaller independent local media company.

This has clearly stung WPP and in one of its many rejoinders (see above) to NDTV it chose to state:

India is one of WPP’s most important, and fastest growing markets, with revenues of approximately $500 million, including associates, and employing around 12,000 people. WPP has four of the top 12 creative agencies and four of the top 15 media agencies, according to India’s Economic Times newspaper. Some WPP agencies have been operating in India for more than 80 years.

WPP has invested in India, helped to build innumerable Indian brands and organisations, and will continue to do so. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell has been a champion of India at various international platforms such as the World Economic Forum for many years. His regular visits to India and interactions with senior decision-makers in industry and government are also a testament to WPP’s ongoing commitment to the country.

This covers one point – that WPP takes India seriously, which indeed it does – but leaves two other issues un-addressed. One is that it (and the other big Western marcoms groups) virtually own the Indian marcoms scene. This is an anomaly in the country because Indian politicians, usually, are reluctant to allow foreign companies to gain dominance in their country. Western retailers, for example, have to partner with locals.

The second one is that, as the world’s biggest media buyer through its gaggle of media agencies operating under the GroupM manner, it’s a bid odd for a WPP company, Kantar, to be providing the data on which they make their supposedly independent decisions.

What’s clear in this lawyer fest is that WPP needs to make it clear that it hasn’t been trying to push around an Indian company, however small. The last thing it wants is for this affair to become a political issue, which maybe it has already.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.