BARC news ratings are back... And is it back to square one?

No sooner had BARC India resumed publishing the TV News ratings, several news channels began their claims to being the No. 1, thus bringing on a feeling of déjà vu. It is the same old story of slicing and dicing the data to project one’s channel as No. 1, which was seen prior to BARC suspended TV news ratings one and a half years back.

There has been no fundamental change in the way BARC functions. So, the question is: do advertisers still trust the BARC ratings for news channels? In the absence of news ratings, advertisers had resorted to other methods and spent advertising money on news channels. Now, post-ratings, will there be changes in the way advertisers spend money on news channels?

Adgully reached out to broadcasters, analysts, and advertisers to find answers to these questions in this two-part series.

Guerrilla warfare

“The No. 1 position has been a joke for a very long time,” says analyst Paritosh Joshi, adding, “It is something which has come to as complaints to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on numerous occasions. We have seen such false and unsubstantiated claims of category leadership. They find a particular day of a week or a particular show, where they are able to claim the maximum audience; the visible claim is No. 1. And if you analyse that ad carefully, somewhere at the bottom of the ad it will be written in tiny letters that it is not No. 1 across the board, but No. 1 for 9 to 10 pm from Monday to Friday or something like that. They very tightly define an audience and claim leadership.”

He reminds us that there are clear stipulations as to what a channel has to do to claim leadership. “You cannot just claim leadership just like that; there are rules that govern what is acceptable to claim leadership,” he asserts.

“Unfortunately, many of these claims are not acceptable. Eventually, somebody complains against the claim and then they withdraw the ad. But the point is that these guys use it as guerrilla warfare rather than a sustained campaign. Before the ad is complained against, it (the ad) has served its purpose of making a spurious claim. And the claim has already been delivered to people. After that, somebody complains and it is withdrawn, it does not really matter. That is the reality. Therefore, this slicing and dicing are not legitimate as it does not comply with the BARC rules,” maintains Joshi.

When contacted to share his perspective, strategic marketing & media consultant Chintamani Rao said that it is the same old story. Nothing has changed from what he has narrated in his book on marketing and media way back in 2010, when TAM did the ratings. Chapter 17, ‘All News is Good News’, talks about the news channels of those days and their undying alacrity to be on top.

About the slicing of data, Rao writes: “These are not conflicting statements. But when you see the ads from which these claims are quoted, notice the asterisk: Conditions apply. It seems that at every news channel there is someone whose job is to slice and dice TAM data until they find a combination of audience, markets, and day parts in which that channel is No. 1.”

“News channels indulge the most, among all broadcasters, in obfuscation and half-truths. That is the genre that you would think should value credibility. If I lied about myself all the time, would you trust me to tell the truth about everything else?”

“As I said, nothing’s changed!” Chintamani Rao tells Adgully, rather wryly.

BARC unchanged

There has been no fundamental change in the way the BARC functions. So do advertisers still trust the BARC ratings for news channels? Broadcasters say that nothing has changed in BARC.

“Maybe some service or security protocols or they would have improved upon learning from whatever challenges they have faced. For example, no intervention by the management team with the data team. Nothing significant has changed ever since BARC stopped news ratings,” says a Mumbai-based senior broadcast executive who prefers anonymity.

“Before finding the impact of resumption of news channels rating, we have to think why the rating was stopped partially only for news channels and then what changes happened before the resumption of the ratings,” points out Anil Kumar Singh, CEO of TV5 Kannada news channel and Group CFO TV5.

He is posing some hard and unpalatable questions. “Is there any change in the board of directors? No. Is there any change in household Bar-o-Meters because the majority Bar-o-Meters were under manipulation? No, because the ratings of the GEC continued. Is the accountability of the BARC CEO defined? No. Is a new independent process auditor appointed? No. Are any transparency measures such as raw data Vs final rating input data shared with subscribers? No. So, all fundamental, critical and significant factors of functionality and accountability are left unattended. BARC has no credibility, but the most surprising fact and the question is why advertisers’ body ISA is silently suffering losses. That’s a big question. BARC has failed young entrepreneurs of India and the entire ecosystem of the TV media industry. So, resumption of rating has further complicated the industry,” asserts Singh.

According to Paritosh Joshi, the issue with BARC is not the methodology. The issue was somebody was playing mischief with the data.

“The allegation was that the data was being tampered with. The panel or the methodology was not being tampered with. The data itself was being tampered with. That is something about which you cannot hold BARC responsible for the design. It is not a question of whether the research design is correct. The research design is not a problem. The problem is that if somebody decides to actually, literally fudge numbers then that kind of fraudulent behavior relates to the ethics of some individuals. There are some crazy people who want to use Return Path data and so on and so forth. I haven’t been able to find anybody who can convince me that there is a robust way of using Return Path data for generating ratings. You can use Return Path data for a variety of applications. But issuing industry-standard ratings is a terribly bad idea. The issue is not methodological. The issue has been the actual management of the output data and that is still unsettled because it is being investigated and in the court. It is sub-judice,” says Joshi.

He does not think that the fundamental methodology needs to change. “It is not that there are unlimited methodologies available to measure what people are watching. There are a finite number of ways. And each of those ways has some advantages and drawbacks,” he adds. 

The Advertisers 

In the absence of news ratings, advertisers had resorted to other methods and spent advertising money on news channels. Now that the ratings are back, will there be a drastic change in the way advertisers spend money on news channels?

According to the broadcast executive, the slicing dicing has been happening to suit their needs. But, it all comes down to how the advertisers look at their target market. If the advertisers are looking at an all-India target market, then they will go with a whole bunch of data. If they are looking at top 10 cities or top five metros, then they will slice the data in a certain manner, he explains.

Advertisers, according to Anil Singh, have to find a way to achieve their advertising spend objectives. According to him, advertisers cannot afford to “allocate advertising budget based on BARC’s hollow channels ratings.”

“Advertisers need to pick channels based on the popularity of the respective channels region-wise. Else, ultimately advertisers will lose their hard-earned capital and businesses,” he adds.

The sad truth, says Joshi, is that in this country, and all over the world, marketing people now maintain an arm’s length from actually weighing in the issues of ratings for a reason.

“With the emergence of media agencies, they are being held responsible for the quantitative brand objective set by the client: so long as we are within your budget and delivering your objectives, leave these issues to us. We will deal with them. It is really agencies who are far closer to ratings than clients. The print medium has effectively lost its measurement. The IRA, for all intent, has died. Does that mean that advertising has stopped in print? Not at all. It is going on because agencies recommend to clients that it is their assessment so they are recommending it,” explains Joshi.

Media buying is for a period, says Joshi. Brands buy inventory for a campaign.

“Now the new financial year is around the corner, in the short run the impact will be minimal. However, once we are back into the full flow of ratings, week-on-week, it will impact the buying patterns. If there are leadership changes particularly in the larger genres such as Hindi news or Marathi News or Telugu news, definitely there will be an impact on the way the media is being bought over the next few months (six months), but not in the short run,” he says.

Beyond BARC

The senior-level television executive argues that the reach of English news channels has been on the decline of late. The broadcasters should see the writing on the wall. In the age of digital, the broadcasters should introspect and attune to the times.

“So, what is this whole fuss about? What is the actual reach marketers are getting from these news channels? Is that relevant in the age of digitalization and digitization? Times have changed. The reach of these English news channels are a small subset of any platform. The reach is only declining, and that too dramatically. Today, Amazon claims to have 70 to 80 million customers. And the English news channels give you a reach of 10 lakh or 5 lakh. What is the use for an advertiser? An advertiser can directly communicate with this user base through Amazon or Flipkart or YouTube or Facebook,” he maintains.

According to him, the advertisers’ spending within the TV space is going to be limited. He asserts that it is high time news TV channels wake up and figure out how they want to build their future because the audiences are transitioning to digital and online. And are they building all the capabilities to be able to reach out to the audience in an effective manner.

They have to think beyond BARC, says the executive. They have to ask themselves as to who is the real competitor? “Is my competitor the other news channel or YouTube or FB or DailyHunt. It is not about market share conversation when you enter the digital market. Is the market share conversation relevant? Does the advertiser need being served on an English news platform with low reach? The growth of spending on digital is going to be higher because it comes with a lot more targeting, accountability, and capability. You could do geo-targeting, data-led segmentation. You can do focused advertising in digital space,” he maintains.

So will ratings help? The ratings will help, says the executive. “But it is not going to be a game-changer, because news channels need to still evaluate within the broadcast business how they are standing vis-à-vis where they were three years back and what is the contribution between free and pay.”

(Tomorrow: What does it mean for the marketers and advertisers?)


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