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TRAI's Suggestion of a confused BARC rating

TRAI's Suggestion and BARC rating

Hindustan Unilever, Amazon, Wipro and ITC are among the top advertisers in India. In the year 2019, the company spent around Rs 32,000 crore on advertising on more than 800 channels airing in the country. These companies rely on data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the largest television watchers worldwide, to determine the appropriate channel, program, location and time for advertising. In the five years of BARC's existence, no advertiser has complained about its figures and stopped using them. Media agencies have also been using Bark data. It is a little difficult to understand what was the need to suggest a restructuring of BARC by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). During the ongoing economic slowdown due to the lockdown, TRAI offered suggestions on 'Review of Television Audience Measurement and Rating System in India'. Among these, suggestions have been made to 'special stakeholders' such as extensive restructuring of BARC, changing its board composition and increasing the number of samples collected from 45,500 to 1,00,000 households by the year 2022. Many of these suggestions are already in existence, such as the formation of a monitoring committee. Some of the suggestions are impractical and some suggest little understanding about broadcasting, viewership estimation, statistics and economics.

A big broadcaster said about this consultation paper that if it is implemented then their work will be stopped. The opinion of other broadcasters is also similar. In terms of payment revenue, TRAI has already given a big blow to the broadcasting industry of Rs 74,000 crore by implementing new tariff system. The suggestion letter could have also said something about advertising revenue. Bark was born after deep suffering. It came into existence after three consultations, the closure of the ratings business of TAM Media Research, and seven years of hard work over ownership, shareholding, technology and methodology. It is a 60-20-20 joint venture between the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the Indian Society of Advertisers and the Advertising Agencies Association of India. These three institutions have given a loan guarantee of Rs 180 crore.

Currently, it releases TV viewing figures of more than 2 lakh Indians by placing its boxes in 45,500 homes across the country and is considered representative of 83.6 crore people. This is higher than the data collected in 2015 by the likes of 40,000 people. All stakeholders, including broadcasters, would be in favor of increasing the sample size, but it would require capital of around Rs 75 crore and several times larger operating expenses to reach 1 lakh homes. Who will bear the burden of this? With a revenue of around Rs 300 crores, BARC is simply saving its existence. Broadcasters account for more than 85 per cent of Bark's customer-based revenue and are no longer willing to bear the burden.

To a large extent, broadcasters are happy with the current system. The current sample size for general entertainment channels is large, but there is a problem with news and special mood channels. For example, the sample size of English or Telugu news is so small that it is difficult to notice a show or an anchor broadcast on a Friday night. For years, Tam and then Bark have advised him to analyze the data after observing the trend for a few weeks, but to no avail. Many anchors and news broadcasters like to think that they are ahead of others and flare at Bark figures. Many broadcasters have also adopted missteps such as tampering to rise above the ratings charts. News broadcasting contributes only 10 per cent to BARC's revenue collection, but most complaints come from these channels. If increasing sample size is the issue then why not stop rating news programs?

This discussion is meaningless for two reasons. First, if the rating system is breached and stakeholders are complaining, then there is no justification for the regulator to interfere. Readership figures for newspaper readership are frightening. Similarly, box office figures on cinema viewership are full of deceit. It is the responsibility of the industries that use these data to correct the flaws, not the regulatory ones.

Second, BARC is formed much later than the UK-based Broadcast Audience Research Board, the Nielsen-based system of the United States, and France's MediaMetry. BARC follows the best traditions being adopted worldwide and has also received acceptance. Partha Dasgupta, the former CEO of BARC, is soon going to help build a BARC-like structure across three different continents.

But BARC should think about making better arrangements for board rotation and also give space to small broadcasters, advertisers and agencies. Even though advertisers do not complain about the ratings, none of them have stood up and spoken in favor of Bark. If BARC wants to change the somewhat correct assumption of being driven by big broadcasters itself, it will have to work hard for the inclusion of all its stakeholders.

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