NDTV’s decision to move court against TAM Media Research, by suing TAM and its parent companies Nielsen and Kantar in the New York State court on July 25, 2012, is expected to have repercussions on the ratings mechanism in India. The industry is still processing implications of this move, irrespective of the outcome of the court decision but one of the first reactions is that this development reasserts the need to push forward the television measurement initiative that industry stakeholders had first embarked upon in 2006-07 in the form of BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council).
Commenting on NDTV’s legal slap to TAM, Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India and President IBF said, “NDTV is a very serious broadcaster and it must have been deeply aggrieved for it to have taken such a step. I presume that NDTV must have collected substantial evidence to take TAM and its parent companies to court. The outcome of the court case will decide the impact of this move on the ratings system in India. But from an IBF perspective, we have felt for a long time that there is need for a more robust, more transparent and a more credible ratings mechanism. This is why we have been pushing BARC forward for a very long time.”
Stakeholders holding BARC behind
Over the years, BARC has seen various changes in its avatar leading to its current formation where the IBF (Indian Broadcasting Foundation) will hold a 60 per cent share, the ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers) will hold a 20 per cent share, and the AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India), which was till recently not part of BARC, will hold the remaining 20 per cent.
The announcement of the new avatar was done in March and it was expected that by July 2012, BARC would be operational. But BARC seems to have missed the deadline again.
Shankar explained, “The IBF is working hard to make it happen and the Government of India, the MIB (Ministry of Information & Broadcasting) has also been very supportive to get this project off the ground but the other stakeholders - AAAI and ISA - have not shown the same urgency for BARC. Sometimes we wonder why. It is very frustrating that the AAAI and ISA are holding BARC behind.”
BARC was expected to be operational in terms of appointing its board and technical committee by July. The company would then begin work on forming a team including the secretariat that would allow it to begin issuing RFPs (request for proposals) for the television industry’s broadcast audience measurement requisites.
Who is responsible for BARC?
Wouldn’t the onus of BARC lie on the IBF first, which under the new agreement would be the majority stakeholder? Shankar replied, “It would and we have taken it very seriously. We have registered the body, got the directors and even initiated the process of initial funding that IBF itself has worked on but we cannot force others to show the same interest. We cannot hold someone else's hand to sign the documents to take this forward.”
BARC’s structure, prior to the most recent agreement, had comprised IBF and ISA only. The absence of AAAI was one of the reasons why BARC was not meeting requisites such as setting up the high-power committee and technical committee proposed in the Dr Amit Mitra-chaired MIB TRP Committee in January 2011. It was suggested that the representatives of the committee would be eminent members from different fields.
Shankar reiterated the need for all industry stakeholders to work together for BARC to materialise. He said, “This is an initiative where we need to align all the stakeholders. It has to cut across the broadcaster, advertiser and the agency so we need them to be completely onboard for this to be an accepted metric. The Indian television industry requires BARC especially given the evolution of the industry that has made it as dynamic as it is today. BARC will enable a ratings mechanism that would have inputs from all stakeholders on the kind of television research and measurement we need in today's media landscape. The current system does not measure all of that effectively. BARC will address the grievances broadcasters have on television measurement today.”
According to the MIB TRP report, the composition of the high-powered committee should include a statistician of national repute, measurement technology expert, a renowned individual from Civil Society or Judiciary, a demographer, a sociologist, an economist, a business management expert from one of the IIMs, nominee of an eminent institution, a leading woman of national stature and three special invitees from BARC.
BARC missed the June 2011 deadline to form this committee and the fact that it had no announcements on its progress had caused concern for the MIB.
But BARC seems to have now worked out a high-level committee that is acceptable to the MIB. Even though many decisions taken by BARC in the last few months would come up to discussion in front of the new board that would now comprise six members of IBF and two each from ISA and AAAI, the announcement in March was seen as a step forward for BARC. The concern is nothing more than has been heard from the Council since.