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News industry is under a serious threat of loss of credibility & revenue: Barun Das

Barun Das, CEO, TV9 Network, has written to Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, seeking his intervention towards lifting the suspension of BARC ratings for the news genre to restore free market dynamics. The letter stresses on how livelihoods are at stake as news channels are feeling the brunt of a ratings dark period.

As reported yesterday (February 12, 2021), the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) has also written to Javadekar, seeking his intervention and action so that BARC India resumes publishing the ratings for the news genre. In its letter, NBF blamed “a group of channels with deep pockets and heavy capital” behind the move to keep ratings in indefinite suspension. “While the suspension of ratings may not have financial bearing on them, it certainly has put an unimaginable amount of stress on our finances,” the NBF added.

Also read:

NBF seeks MIB’s intervention in resumption of news channel ratings

In his letter to the Minister, Barun Das wrote, “Initially, we suffered the sudden suspension of ratings as we were led to believe that it would be only for a period of 2-3 months, which in itself was an irrational decision. That declared duration of suspension is long gone but there is no sign or sight of returning to BARC ratings for the News genre, putting the very survival of news channels in jeopardy.”

In his letter, Das alleged, “We have been given to understand that it was NBA (News Broadcasters Association) that actively goaded BARC to suspend ratings of the News Genre. That understanding got further fortified when NBA recently openly called for further suspension of ratings beyond the initially projected “10-12” weeks. It is now four weeks after that and there is still no visibility on when the ratings regime will be back or what exactly BARC is doing that cannot be done within a specified time period.”

The TV9 Network CEO’s letter poses the following questions:

"Why single out News Genre for suspension?

The recent developments which apparently instigated the move to suspend ratings also threw up the names of some channels from the non-News Genre. So why has BARC singled out News Genre for suspension?

If the current BARC rating is faulty, then why is the same currency being used by the rest of the Industry? The News Genre commands approximately 12% of viewership and approximately 18% of revenue of TV Industry. So why is that the ratings system that is bad for approximately 12% of TV Industry good for 88% of the Industry? Why is only News Genre being painted as unscrupulous and being out cast?

If the argument is that the margin of error is higher for the News Genre because the sample size of news channels is smaller compared to that of GECs, then why is that the ratings of special interest English language channels, whose sample size is much smaller than News Genre, have not been suspended?

Whose decision is it anyway?

Even today it is still not clear who pushed for this illogical suspension of ratings. BARC has not owned up to the decision.

If it is the NBA that was instrumental in influencing this decision, then it is noteworthy that the NBA is certainly not a fair representation of the Industry for reasons cited below:

  • Hundreds of news channels are not Members of NBA
  • Even those channels that are members of NBA have no say in any matters. Members are neither consulted nor is any voluntary suggestion from Members ever welcomed. I say all this from personal experience.

We are a Member of the NBA. And we are a National News Network with larger viewership than any other News Network in India. However, since we are a new entrant on the national arena, we are not part of the NBA Board. We were never consulted nor intimated by NBA Board about their stand with respect to BARC ratings from the beginning. Only once, before the decision of suspension of ratings became public, I was unofficially approached by an NBA Board Member intimating me of the Board’s thinking.

I had vehemently opposed his proposition for ratings suspension because of the consequent loss of credibility for the Industry and the adverse impact that would have on the business prospects of the entire Genre. Subsequently I have been expressing to NBA about my serious concern against suspension of ratings ONLY for News Genre.

Is there a vested interest being served through the suspension of ratings?

It is being spoken about in the Industry that the postponement of ratings distinctly benefits some of the leading national channels whose viewership ranks have been slipping for about six months before the ratings were suspended.

If the disruption in the pecking order amongst the national Hindi news channels (which corner the biggest pie of News TV advertising revenue) had continued because of the advent of new players like TV9 Bharatvarsh, then the advertising rate of the channels on the decline would have come under squeeze, and the advertising rates of new channels gaining ground would have gone up.

So prima facie, it seems that the suspension of ratings is benefiting those national Hindi news channels whose leadership and viewership rankings were being challenged. These very channels have a majority representation in the NBA Board. Is this just an uncanny coincidence, if in reality, it was NBA board who was instrumental for suspension?

Ironically, these legacy channels – whose viewership supremacy is now being challenged - had no trust deficit in BARC ratings as long as they were at the top and could flaunt the BARC ratings to garner revenue. And, strangely, some of them are now propagating their viewership supremacy based on some flaky studies whose sanctity has never been proved.

So, are we to assume that BARC ratings will be acceptable as the Gold Standard only as long as they perpetuate the supremacy of a few legacy channels and rejected and tarnished when these channels start losing steam? Will these channels now prevail upon BARC to suspend ratings whenever their market share starts slipping so that they might promote another rating system which again benefits them?"

Along with these questions, Das' letter further states that the “News TV industry is under a serious threat of loss of credibility and loss of revenue”. Citing market feedback, TV9 Network stated that advertisers are getting increasingly suspicious about the News Genre since ratings have been suspended for only News. It expressed apprehension that the revenue for the News Genre would shrink, which might cause loss of jobs, and distress for all employed in the Industry. “It is pertinent to note that news TV generates the maximum direct employment amongst all genres of our industry,” Das wrote.

Continuing further, he wrote, “The selective and irrational suspension of News Genre ratings favours establish players and creates difficulties for all other players, including exponentially growing organisations like ours... Such growing organisation needs a free market to operate and expand.”

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