Television rating measurement and news channels haven’t had the smoothest equation over the years. Like TAM (Television Audience Measurement) has often faced the heat in the past, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) has also had their fair share of challenges with news channels.
The current TRP issue that has been simmering and dominating news headlines in the past two weeks has resulted in a raging debate on the subject of TV measurement and its dynamics.
BARC has around 44,000 barometers installed across the country to record data based on which it measures TV ratings and advertisers bank on these rating points to zero in on not just a particular channel but also the genre and programmes they want to spend their monies on. Now out of these, 2,000 are located in Mumbai.
This has now become a point of importance, considering the TRP rigging case started off with Hansa Research, an agency hired by BARC to monitor viewership, complaining of possible anomalies in the system. The Mumbai police claimed to have found evidence of malpractice and summoned Republic’s officials and arrested the owners of Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema on BARC India’s complaints under sections 409 and 420 of IPC.
The matter became a little murky with Republic TV claiming that there was a mention of India Today in the FIR. In the wake of these developments, BARC announced last week that it will pause Audience Estimate (Ratings) for News Channels for 8-12 weeks; and that Genre Level Ratings, by State and Language will continue.
While the Rajat Sharma-led News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has welcomed the decision, the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), headed by Republic’s Arnab Goswami has objected to the decision.
Over the past few weeks, brands like Bajaj, Parle Products, Dollar and Amul have already gone on record to withdraw their support to channels that promote ‘toxic content’. Some brands meanwhile have taken a wait-and-watch approach.
In the absence of ratings, allocation of ad spends on the news genre channels will be based on perception and previous ranking. Leading channels in the genre are likely to maintain their position and may not see much impact but the small channels may suffer for a while. BARC has assured all stakeholders that its Technical Committee will review and augment the current standards of measuring and reporting the data of niche genres.
But will it lead to a robust measurement system? Does the industry need a complete overhaul of measurement ratings? Is the sample size still too small that the households with People-O-meter are being manipulated? Can there be Set Top Boxes in a few million homes across India that may have return path for data which can reduce manipulation and data fudging? The next few days and weeks may bring in a few answers.
WHAT THEY SAID – REACTIONS FROM THE INDUSTRY
One of the arrested persons and some of the wanted accused persons were employees of Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd and they have misused the confidential data which had been entrusted to them.
It has apparently been done for wrongful gains of various TV channels, which had resulted in wrongful loss to various advertisers and their agencies. Preliminary investigations also revealed that these accused persons have manipulated the sampling metering services by inducing the barometer users by paying them periodically to watch a particular TV channel / s.
Many of the people in whose homes these barometers have been installed have accepted that they have benefited monetarily for keeping their TV sets on even if they actually didn’t watch it.”
As in all our previous cases of suspected panel homes’ intrusions, BARC India continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines.
BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report ‘What India Watches’. BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai police and will provide the support asked of it Our efforts on combating infiltration are focused on the individual(s) responsible for these activities
and we firmly believe that television channels are committed to maintaining a clean and transparent ecosystem.”
Mumbai Police Commissioner PB Singh has made false allegations against Republic TV because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation.
Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against Mumbai Police Commissioner PB Singh. There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV. The people of India know the truth.
Mr PB Singh’s investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud and this is a desperate measure because of Republic TV reportage on Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput case or any other case.
This kind of targeting only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV to push for the truth even harder. PB Singh stands completely exposed today since BARC has not mentioned Republic in any single complaint. He should issue an official apology and get ready to face us in court.”
Hansa Research and BARC conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks, the conclusion of which resulted in Hansa Research filing an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing.
Hansa Research has always been vigilant about these issues and has been proactive in informing BARC and the law enforcement agencies as and when such cases have come to our notice. We would continue to cooperate with BARC and with the authorities as and when called upon to do so.”
There is a malicious campaign on right now by a few vested interests to drag the name of the India Today Group into the TRP scandal that broke out on October 8, 2020.
On that day, Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh held a press conference in which he alleged that the police had found evidence to suggest that Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema have been systematically manipulating the Television Rating Points (TRP) system. In the FIR, the name of India Today is mentioned.
However, it is not substantiated by any of the accused or witnesses. On the contrary, the accused and witnesses are specifically mentioning the names of Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. Thorough investigations are going on.”
We at BARC take our role in truthfully and faithfully reporting ‘What India Watches’ with the greatest sense of responsibility and work with integrity to ensure that our audience estimates (ratings) remain true to their purpose.
Besides augmenting current protocols and benchmarking them with global standards, BARC is actively exploring several options to discourage unlawful inducement of its panel home viewers and further strengthening its Code of Conduct to Address Viewership Malpractice”.
Recent revelations have brought disrepute to the measurement agency and by extension the broadcast news media.
The corrupted, compromised, irrationally fluctuating data is creating a false narrative on What India Watches and has been putting pressure on our members to take editorial calls that run counter to the journalistic values and ideals of journalism.
The current atmosphere of toxicity, abuse and fake news is no longer tenable and NBA as the custodian and guardian of Indian broadcast media believes a bold step of putting ratings of news genre on hold will help in improving the content.
For many years NBA has been highlighting its concerns about the veracity of TV viewership data, which have been prone to irrational fluctuations. Recent events have shown that there is much more at stake than just the measurement of news channels’ popularity.
Indeed, a healthy and vibrant TV news industry is vital to Indian democracy.”
Given the most recent developments, the BARC Board was of the opinion that a pause was necessitated to enable the industry and BARC to work closely to review its already stringent protocols and further augment them to enable the industry to focus on collaborating for growth and well-natured competitiveness”.
Such channels cause irreparable loss to honest players like us besides fooling the nation. We had flagged off the inexplicable and abnormal rise in the ratings of some channels in different markets to relevant authorities at different times in the past.”
Governments (Centre & State) and Businesses (Public & Private) base their advertising allocations to TV channels based on TRPs, so flawed or manipulated TRP cannot be the basis of ad spends. TV cos also base their valuations on TRP. Those valuations are questionable now.
We have got our internal teams and a strong distributor network and we get our own feedback from those distributors about the real situation on the ground and we decide our advertising basis. We believe that the sanctity of data should be maintained. That credibility should be maintained by hook or by crook, otherwise, the entire system is going to collapse.”
The entire news genre cannot be put under scrutiny. Only a select few channels have been reaping substantial illegitimate benefits.
Advertisers can easily differentiate between channels that are promoting a brand of sinister polarisation and unethical journalism, from those who respect ethical values and speak truth to power.
One cannot generalise all news channels within the same purview of content and inculpate the entire genre for just one incident.”
The decision is unilateral, one-sided and undemocratic, impacting and targeting one single genre within the broadcasting ecosystem.
The decision will severely impact news broadcasters, who have seen a surge in ratings despite the challenges of a lower-than-expected economic growth that has impacted their revenues already, in addition to the financial impact created by the lockdown to prevent spread of COVID-19.”
There are 17 crore satellite connections while the BARC-installed barometers are at just 45,000 empanelled households which is a negligible number and so the development doesn’t make much of a difference.
I don’t want to comment on who has partaken in the manipulation and who has not, but the government should come up with such a system in place that can monitorTRP fairly.”