There has been immense speculation on the October deadline for BARC, and the absence of formal statement from BARC on a possible new deadline has only intensified the game of wait and watch. In a detailed conversation with exchange4media, Partho Dasgupta Chief Executive Officer BARC India indicates a possible delay of a couple of months, and an additional investment of Rs 100 crore made by broadcasters on technology adaption.
There has been a silence from BARC on its progress in the recent months post the appointment of French firm Médiamétrie and Prime Focus Technologies, can you take us through the progress that has taken place?
BARC INDIA has closed deals with 26 vendor partners across 12 processes involved in the broadcast measurement system, who will contribute to the different moving parts of the system. This will be the largest such audience measurement system globally with cutting edge technology, which requires serious technology and process handshakes all over and then testing. All this is currently underway. There is a bit of delay in the statistical sampling and data process but we are handling the same.
The broadcasters are pumping in about Rs 100 crores in the technology adaptation towards our watermarking embedders. This is over and above their contribution towards BARC funding.
More than 250 channels have already ordered for these embedders and about a half of this is already installed. We are testing the meters and homologating them for Indian conditions.
We have been silent only because we are busy doing all that is required to ensure a transparent and reliable audience measurement system. This month, we are also seeding some boxes in homes across India which will transmit back the data to our servers which we can monitor and check.
The October deadline is unlikely and the first roll out is expected by December this year. How true is this?
We are starting to seed boxes to test our systems. This will continue for some time, since we want to test the meters under all kinds of Indian conditions in different parts of the country. We want to make sure that the data flowing is right in all respects, validated and stakeholders are satisfied before releasing them commercially. I don’t want to comment on dates.
When the October deadline was announced earlier were these delays unforeseen? How are you going to overcome the data availability issue?
When you are out to develop a green field system which is arguably the biggest global audience measurement system in the world, there are bound to be challenges. Especially when it involves multiple processes and multiple vendors all interlinked to each other, any delay in any one process has a cascading effect. We have had some data availability issues but we are resolving it now. And please don’t forget, we are trying to do this at a fraction of the cost any other country spends for such a system.
When we were doing the homework, we realized globally every change of any measurement system like this takes a minimum of three years. And in terms of sheer scale of sample they will be one fourth our size. We are at it for just more than a year and we are taking a giant leap in technology. We also had a huge challenge of cost. India is a large country and the first 20,000 meters may not also be just enough in the long run. So we had to opt for a method where as we scale, we do not end up burning large monies which the industry can’t afford.
Like many other countries, we could have easily given this whole thing to one vendor partner and relied on them for everything. We opted for the harder and tougher way - something which will be superior and yet much cost effective. The Board of BARC and the Technical Committee supported us all the way in taking this path. The Commercial Committee members facilitated the technology issues immensely. I cant give you the exact figures but let me assure you that we are rolling out this whole system at a fraction of the cost that we would have otherwise incurred. However, all this comes with its hurdles and we are learning everyday. Things are moving at speed and within budgeted costs and soon we will start testing the data from the system. It is this process of solving the puzzle which adds to the excitement and challenge of finally getting it right.
How is BARC ensuring that the ratings will be robust?
Firstly, the technology - we are using the most advanced technology that the developed world either uses or is moving to. This gives us the confidence of accuracy and reliability. The watermarking technology being used by us is the most modern one – that is also being used in France for the last seven years and in US for more than a year. Many other countries are exploring a move to this technology for its reliability and robustness.
Secondly, the sample size - roughly three times the present system.
Thirdly, transparency - we are promoted by three industry bodies and the senior most of officials from all stakeholders are involved in the decision making process of BARC.
Fourthly, integrity – our processes are designed such that left hand doesn’t know what right hand is doing. And hence someone who knows the homes (and very few will know very few homes) doesn’t have access to data – and someone who sees the data doesn’t know which homes its coming from. It’s all coded with locked algorithms.
So effectively it’s not just different, it’s a new way to do things and that’s exactly how we are ensuring that the ratings will be robust.
Given the current stage how is it different from the existing system?
The key differences are; a) much bigger sample size, b) state of art technology with most processes being automated, c) capability of measuring time shifted viewing along with linear TV d) adoption of the latest technology which also enables to capture multi-platforms, e) Transparency – all stakeholders are involved in key decision making processes, f) Process Integrity – Process flow has been so designed to ensure integrity of information. It is not just different – It is a new way to do things.
How is the new technology medium agnostic keeping in mind 4G?
The watermarking technology renders itself to be platform agnostic. Once the content is watermarked, it can be measured on any platform. So, be it satellite, cable, terrestrial or digital, it doesn’t matter. To begin with BARC India will measure linear and can measure catch-up TV. In future it also intends to enable measurement for digital platforms.