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Make TV ratings more accurate, tamper-proof: Industry groups to Trai
The Economic Times, November 05, 2018

Heads of television stations and industry groups have asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to improve the existing system of measuring TV viewership make ratings more representative, accurate and tamper-proof.

These suggestions came at a meeting recently called by Trai with all stakeholders on the ‘Review of Television Audience Measurement.’ The exercise sought to assess credibility of the current measurement system and “gather opinions on how to further boost representativeness and robustness of current data” provided by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, an official at Trai told ET.

BARC India, a joint initiative of broadcasters, advertising agencies and advertisers, is India’s defacto official rating agency. BARC India statistics, released weekly, define a channel’s popularity and play an important role in advertising-related decision-making worth Rs 25,000 crore a year.

In April, the ministry of information and broadcasting had written to BARC on concerns within some channels about data produced by the agency, and why it was not reporting viewership separately for states such as Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, which could have been due to low sample sizes.

Trai chairman RS Sharma confirmed that the authority has reached out to stakeholders on improving the present system of measuring TV viewership and that the regulatory body will decide if it needs to bring in recommendations and guidelines soon, based on the views it gets.

The first meeting of this kind was held on October 22, which saw participation of representatives from major news and general entertainment channels, Indian Broadcasters’ Federation and News Broadcasters Associations, Indian Society of Advertising (ISA), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and BARC India, among others.

Trai released a consultation paper on the issue Monday, inviting comments before January 2. The regulator has detailed viewership measurement methodologies used in the UK, the US, France and Ireland, among others.

BARC has installed ‘BAR-O-meters’ in 33,000-odd empanelled households. While watching a show, members of the panel household register their presence by pressing their viewer ID button, thus capturing the duration for which the channel was watched.

The identity of these households is kept confidential to prevent panel tampering. Earlier this year, BARC’s vigilance team had detected leaks in such confidential data, which it said was being countered as an ongoing process through measures that included police complaints.

According to those attending the meeting, issues discussed included the need to expand the sample of households BARC uses to determine its weekly ratings, and ways to control tampering and panel infiltration. The option of there being a government nominee in BARC was also among the main issues that cropped up at the meeting. A participant told ET “it was slightly disconcerting as to why the government needs to discuss these matters that should be left to broadcasters and industry.” Another participant shared this view.

Broadcasters largely agreed that, as of now, there was no need for another agency apart from BARC India to get into TV viewership measurement. However, the general consensus was that the industry needs to invest more in the current system and newer technologies like sample RPD (Return Path Data), to make it more robust and credible, especially for smaller genres such as news, lifestyle, and English language channels.

Most participants present in the meeting, ET has learnt, have said a larger sample is needed, and that it was important to understand the difference between “size and quality” of the sample.

News is the third-largest genre on television with an 8% viewership share of the total TV universe, with more than 160 channels across English, Hindi, and regional languages. A BARC official said while there are some platforms that today claim to be able to measure viewership, the technologies are “untested and unverified” as of now.

MK Anand, managing director and chief executive of Times Network, said: “Just as we believe in self-regulation over third party or government regulation in content, we see BARC as a selfmeasuring mechanism. It is coowned by broadcasters, advertisers and agencies. This is always better than any third party. Yes, processes will have to continuously improve, but as far as governing of the system is concerned, there are adequate safeguards in place.” He, however, added that panel-tampering needed to be made a criminal offence. “Currently, it is a bit vague and even the police doesn’t understand the implications. Once it becomes a criminal offence, it can be handled much better.”

A participant and ABP News chief operating officer Avinash Pandey said it was important that newer technologies such as return path data (RPD) were put in place so that “extrapolation of data from a small sample of households” is no longer the only way to measure TV viewership.

BARC India has started the process of using set-top boxes to add to the current measurement. For this, it is looking to work with sets of sample homes from leading DTH and Cable TV Operators. “For a diverse country like India, where TV watching patterns and languages… change every 100 km, we cannot use a homogenous method. We need to bring in techniques that can give accurate data,” Pandey said.

That BARC is not yet measuring digital viewing and that it needs to improve its “outlier management system”, particularly the way it detects tampered data and deals with it, also needs to be worked upon, the broadcasters are learnt to have told Trai.

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