Standpoint: The murky TRP wars where there are really no winners

TRP wars are always murky and regardless of who gains the upperhand, there really are no winners. Adding to the already annus horribilis that the year 2020 has turned out to be, is the high decibel war mongering over television ratings, more precisely among rival news networks.

News channels were being hailed and feted till just a few weeks ago for keeping the COVID-19 impacted population informed, and the tremendous and never-before spike seen in the news genres during the lockdown period had led to a rejuggling of advertisers’ media plans.

How the cookie has crumbled! Now, all one hears about is how ‘Toxic News’, battlegrounds in the name of TV debates, and tampering of TRPs is eroding the credibility of news channels.

Also read:  What the BARC CEO wrote to reassure subscribers amid TRP scam

A single press conference of the Mumbai Police Commissioner has opened a can of worms. TRP manipulation is not a new phenomenon. Time and again we have come across such news; arrests are made, several reports and expert opinions appear in the media and then everything fades away...till the next incident of TRP tampering. Till date, no substantial solution has been found for this menace.

So what is different about the latest instance of TRP tampering? First, it has pitted two rival and prominent news networks against each other. The Mumbai Police Commissioner had named Republic TV, Fakht Marathi and Box Cinema during his press conference. Following this, Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami displayed a copy of the FIR filed by the Mumbai Police on the complaint of Hansa Research Group employee Nitin Deokar, which named India Today and not Republic TV.

Meanwhile, in its statement, India Today Television stated, “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...As the story unfolded, it emerged that the First Information Report (FIR) with the Mumbai Police included a complaint by an ex-employee of Hansa Research, a field agency of BARC, in which India Today and some other channels were accused of having manipulated TRP data. We had no prior knowledge of the FIR, nor do we know or have dealings with the arrested accused. The Commissioner of Police confirmed this by issuing the following clarification: "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”.”

What this entire TRP tampering episode has only further brought into prominence is the bitter, cutthroat war that exists in the news genre. A section of the media is trying to highlight how advertisers are mulling over dissociating with news channels indulging in such malpractices. But it’s not just news channels that have been found indulging in TRP manipulations in the past – the culprits have been across genres. Has that stopped advertisers from investing in their monies on these channels?

It’s well-known in the industry that there is no love lost between Republic TV and the Mumbai Police Commissioner, especially in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. One wonders whether this is a case of witch hunt.

The usual norm is that High TRPs = More ad revenues. By that logic, Dangal TV, that had reigned supreme for several months on All Platforms among Hindi GECs, should have garnered the highest ad revenues. But that was not the case. There are now increasing calls for an overhaul in the television ratings system in the country. But wasn’t BARC set up with the intention to take care of the glitches in the TAM system?

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if digital media emerges the biggest gainer in this sordid episode. After all, a massive transition to digital has already happened during the COVID and lockdown period.

We want to see news channels do what they do best – inform, analyse – and not indulge in a war where there are never any winners.


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