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Should the government regulate TRPs?

  • 16 October, 2020

  • 10 Min Read

Should the government regulate TRPs?


  • The Mumbai Police said that a TRP (Target Rating Points) racket involving three news channels had been busted.
  • Since then, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which monitors the TRPs, has suspended ratings of news channels for three months.
  • The alleged scam has once again highlighted the need for regulation.

Target Rating Points (TRP)- a financial scam:

  • Television channels are driven by TRPs and it is viewership that drives their business.
  • Viewership generates advertisement spending of nearly ?27,000 crore.
  • The financial fraud, which has been highlighted by the Mumbai Police Commissioner, is one aspect.
  • Now because of that cheating, the channels’ ratings are getting distorted.
  • Channels are spreading a hate narrative which is violative of the fundamental right of the citizen to know the truth through the media.
  • The media has become a source of disinformation. And that is the ethical issue.
  • Both dimensions, legal and ethical, are equally serious.

Pre TRP era (Dairy Method):

  • In the early 1990s, when private channels started, it didn’t have people’s meters.
  • There was the diary method. You gave diaries to people and found out what they were watching during the week.
  • That was inadequate and the sampling size was also very small. It was an unscientific method, but the only method and we used that.
  • Advertisers used that along with their own common sense and what their people on the ground — agents, retailers, sellers of consumer durables — told them about the claims of a particular channel and the kind of viewership it was talking about.

TRP era:

  • Now, 44,000 homes is the sampling size of BARC.
  • The sample size of Mumbai, which is in the eye of the storm of this TRP fiasco, is only about 2,000 homes, and Mumbai is the biggest TV viewing metropolis in the country.
  • The problem with this competition for TRPs is that there’s a race to the bottom and therefore, you find people insulting each other, insulting people, doing anything to attract attention.
  • We have ample evidence of this, particularly in the context of the Sushant Singh Rajput case and how it was covered. This whole TRP dispute may be a sequel to that. It’s a ratings mindset. This ratings mindset has taken over us.

Lack of transparency

  • This is not peculiar to television. If you go to a bookshop these days, there is somebody who has already rated the first top-selling 50 books.
  • There is no transparency in who is rating this.
  • We are therefore limited to choosing from what has already been rated for us.
  • Our intellectual horizons are shrinking, not expanding.
  • And therefore, there’s something very distorted in this process of the ratings mindset and television is a good example we have of that.

TRPs can be deceptive

  • TRPs can be deceptive. For example, DD is the biggest act in town. And as recently as April-May this year, BARC itself admitted that DD has the highest reach, demographically and geographically, but it doesn’t get a proportionate share of the advertising revenue because advertising goes by another calculation, which is your purchasing power.
  • So, the advertiser goes for that segment which has better purchasing power, which is why this small sliver of the English news channels, which incidentally account for less than 1% of total TV viewership, and each of these channels, which will be 0.4% of that 1% TV viewing ecosystem, is fighting for the advertisement pie.
  • The scam, as we are calling it now, is nothing new. AC Nielsen-owned TAM was in the news back in 2003-04 when allegations of viewership being rigged surfaced. TAM was dissolved and BARC took its place.

How did the TRP fraud take place?

  • Despite 50% of the country being dependent only on terrestrial network, which meant that half of India was watching only DD, TAM showed only 2% of the audience.
  • As a result, the advertisement revenue was assigned to only 2%, which was a fraud.
  • The people meter is operated by a remote control with buttons assigned to every member of the family.
  • They are expected to switch on the button when they are watching a channel and switch it off when they step out of the viewing room.
  • Who is going to do this day after day? The technician who had come to install a people meter admitted after some hesitation that they paid the household in kind: a dinner set for one family, a TV set for another, with a request to watch a channel.
  • Who are the buyers of these products for whom advertisers advertise the Mercedes cars and BMWs? And where are the people meters installed? In poor people’s homes.
  • They are the ones who can be bought over by a pressure cooker and a TV set. So, despite a socioeconomic classification of households on the lines of ABCD and E, the top three segments from A to C will not install a people meter in their homes for ?500 and ?1,000 a month.
  • The same people meter continues, only the owner has changed from TAM to BARC. Two years ago, there was a similar scam unearthed in Gwalior.

 Would we achieve anything if we increased the sample size?

  • Increasing the sample size is a first step. But equally important is to get the demographic right so that it is truly representative.
  • BARC pays something like ?100 to ?200 to households (a month) where the people meters are installed.
  • And so these households obviously have a particular economic status.
  • There’s a uniformity about it. They are not representative of the TV viewing public, particularly for an English news channel. It is distorted.
  • It’s not just the sampling size. It’s the methodology, the quality of sampling, the geographic and demographic spread.

Way forward

  • Let there be four or five agencies in the same city. They will come up with different figures. And let us aggregate the figures coming from four or five different agencies. Probably, we will get to the truth.
  • There should be also an oversight committee with teeth within BARC.
  • The role of regulation has to be with an autonomous body. It has to be the industry, as it’s in the interest of the industry. It’s in the interest of those who are spending ?25,000 crore or ?27,000 crore on advertising to make sure that it is cost effective.
  • Government can be a facilitatot through enacting laws rather than a regulator.

Source: TH


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