TRP war: Competition will be there, but a code of conduct is needed - Industry leaders

Allegations by Mumbai Police naming three news channels for tampering TRPs has brought to question the integrity of Broadcast Audience Research Council’s (BARC) TV data collection practices. BARC has empaneled 44,000 sample homes with their BAR-O-meters to extrapolate the viewership of 197 million TV homes.

Unsurprisingly, news channels representative body is not a stakeholder in BARC India, which was formed by the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF), the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), who have been using it as an efficient currency of measurement for the last five years. IBF holds 60% stake in BARC, while AAAI and ISA hold 20% stake each.

Also read:  TRP scam: BARC’s decision is one-sided and undemocratic, says NBF

Unable to bring forth any change in the internal structure of BARC nor come to an understanding with stakeholders, news channels have resorted to bringing their battles on television and conducting a media trial. They have brought the issue to the attention of the broader public and regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), but how much does an FIR on ratings tampering impact the viewers?

Senior leaders in the advertising industry, who did not wish to be named, said the situation was akin to solving a 1% problem, where 99% of the stakeholders would not be affected by the change. Sharing the example of English news, one senior media planner said, “At any point during primetime, share of English news viewership is 1 per cent of the total viewing universe. So, increasing the sample homes in BARC’s measurement pool is not the problem, the problem is that no one watches English news, which is bought on the basis of ratings. Even the No. 1 news channel doesn’t have a high share of total viewership. Just fixing five meters is enough to boost their viewership by 10%.”

“This is an industry issue, not a public issue,” maintained another senior leader from a leading ad agency network. “TRPs battle between two channels doesn’t need to be fought during primetime.”

He observed that this problem was exacerbated by the inability of news channels to work together. “We agencies compete fiercely, even for a quarter of a per cent, but on common issues everyone comes together. Of course, there will be competition in the marketplace, but there should be a code of conduct. In the past, agencies were such fierce competitors that they didn’t even talk to one another. While we continue to compete on the business front, we collaborate brilliantly on industry issues.”

“News channels need to abide by a code of conduct imposed either by the Editors’ Guild of India or a news body,” he concluded.

The News Broadcasting Association (NBA) and News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) are two industry bodies representing English, Hindi and regional broadcasters. Many regional news broadcasters get a fraction of the viewership of Hindi news channels and are barely represented in BARC ratings. Since advertisers rely on BARC ratings to plan their media spread, news channels have resorted to taking the issue to the regulator.

In April, TRAI had issued a set of recommendations for BARC after a 15-month consultation process reviewing television audience measurement and ratings. The recommendations sought to mitigate the potential risk of conflict of interest, improve credibility and transparency, and instill confidence of stakeholders (news channels) in TRP measurement.

One aspect of recommendation was that multiple data collection agencies be encouraged to create credible and accurate data collection. BARC should limit its role to publishing the ratings. It was also asked to prescribe the framing methodology and audit mechanism to rating agencies so that multiple rating systems can be developed leveraging new technologies. However, the business economics of this recommendation were deemed as unviable by industry insiders and people in the know.

TRP manipulation is a decades old issue and this latest instance of tampering is nothing new. Those making calls for a better collection methodology or a bigger sample panel should note that BARC is the largest measurement company of its size in the world.

Speaking about the integrity and credibility of BARC data, an industry spokesperson noted, “Any system can be cracked, even the voting system. BARC has its own checks and balances and processes which we don’t know about. We have yet to know what is the outlier management system in BARC. Nobody knows how that is affecting the ratings.”

Adding further, he said, “The problem is not with BARC, but with the news channels who are letting us down. I am concerned as a media planner that some of my clients are asking should we pull down advertising. Then I’ll get hurt and the whole industry will get hurt. This is all an ego issue. The revenue of a news channel is around Rs 200-250 crore, while a GEC broadcaster may earn up to approx Rs 5,000 crore.”

In response to probe by Mumbai Police on TRP tampering, BARC has suspended news channel ratings for a period of 8-12 weeks. Industry bodies like News Broadcasters Association have welcomed the move by BARC, while the News Broadcasters Federation has slammed the decision.

How will agencies be affected if ratings drop? “In India, TV is unlike anywhere else. Five top GECs control 85% of the viewership share. While there are 50 big channels, there are only 6-10 odd big agencies and we have incredible unity,” observed the senior agency spokesperson quoted earlier.

“In digital, Facebook and Google are ruling the roost since there are no ratings. In TV, News channels’ revenue will go down by 50% because advertisers will not buy channels with no ratings. BARC shutting down News channels’ ratings is akin to the industry shooting itself in the foot,” he concluded.

(The revenue figures mentioned in the report are approximations and not absolute numbers.)


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