Television rating points (TRPs) have always been a hotly debated topic in the industry. Taking forward this debate, Doordarshan Delhi organised a live discussion on the topic in its programme ‘Friday Fever’ on March 14. While broadcasters felt that TRP ratings were more a commercial need than a consumer need, other participants comprising journalists, social activists, filmmakers and the general public were of the view that TRP ratings had a bad impact on the content of television.
The programme also discussed whether TRPs were representative of the entire viewership spread across India or not.
The debate was telecast live and was well moderated by TV personalities Sudhir Chaudhary, CEO, Live India, and Suneet Tandon, Executive Director, Marketing, Lok Sabha TV and Sudhir Chaudhary, CEO, Live India. Tandon is a well-known face on TV and has been a news and current affairs anchor on national television and a radio broadcaster for several years. He has also been at various stages in his career, a banker, a theatre critic, a music critic, a film festival director, programmer and a corporate manager. His theatre work includes more than 75 plays as an actor or director.
Chaudhary has been associated with the television news industry for more than 14 years and belongs to the first generation of television journalists. After spending almost a decade with Zee News, Chaudhary moved to Sahara Samay National as Senior Editorial Resource and Senior Anchor, and played a major role in the launch of the channel. From Sahara, he moved to India TV as Executive Editor, where he used to co-anchor the primetime show ‘Breaking News’ with Rajat Sharma.
Prominent among the participants at the debate were LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM; Jawahar Goel, President, IBF and MD, DishTV; Chintamani Rao, CEO, Times Now; Anurag Batra, MD and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media; Paritosh Joshi, President, Star TV; Ashok Jailkhani, DDG, Doordarshan; Avinash Kaul, Executive Vice President-Sales, NDTV; Anthony Pettifer, Group Director-Brand and Communications, INX Media; Mahesh Prasad, former Secretary, I&B Ministry; Amit Varma, CEO, aMap; PV Narayanamoorthy, CEO, Carat India; advertising and media consultant Sunila Menon; Sunil Dang, President, Indian Language Newspapers Association; Roop Sharma, President, All India Cable Operators Association; social activist Ranjana Kumari; and, Mahesh Prasad, Director, Sahara One, along with some other key industry people.
TAM’s LV Krishnan said, "Ratings have nothing to do with the consumers and are meant for the advertisers. The statistics are done electronically and prevents doing a door to door survey across India. The rating system cover 7,000 households through a device called people meter to portray the consumers' habit of watching television content."
DishTV's Jawahar Goel said that the bonus provided to programme producer was determined by his performance, which was again determined by the TRP that the programme garnered. So, producers created content in accordance with the advertisers. In 2002, DD had its own rating system and the ad revenue pie was very less. Though Doordarshan has 100 per cent reach, it could not monetise it in terms of ad revenue.
Times Now's Chintamani Rao also insisted that the rating system was a commercial service and not a public service, hence, there was no harm if broadcasters were chasing TRPs. "We are living in a market driven economy and broadcasters are in need of ratings to get advertising and for programming. It is important for broadcasters to know what types of people are watching our programmes. It is a rational and logical commercial process," he observed.
According to exchange4media's Anurag Batra, it was fashionable to hit out at the system. "If they do well in ratings you flaunt it in private, and if they don't do well, you criticise in public. It is unfair on the system," he said.
Citing the example of 'Time' magazine, Batra said that the magazine was a political magazine earlier, say the late 80s, but if analysed now, the content had changed keeping in mind the changing needs of the readers. There was entertainment, business as well as human interest stories in it, the type of content published had changed completely, he noted.
Batra further said, "We talk about dumbing down of content, but the fact is that we are watching it. What people say is completely different from what they actually do. The problem is that today on our platter there is more pickle than the actual food. India is changing, there is the rural India and there is the urban India, and as we grow, new currency would emerge that would involve rural India as well."
Batra also shared that "TRPs are only one parameter which is used by advertisers and media agencies, and a strong brand and relevance of content also get advertising. Hence, broadcasters and producers should focus on build strong programming brands."
aMap India’s Amit Varma shared that their system was giving daily ratings so that real time feedback was available.
Journalist Nalini Singh pointed out that the discussion was taking a serious turn as it gave a picture that the game of TRP was restricted to a select few and the sample size covered a mere 7,000 households. "A market worth Rs 2,000 crore is restricted in a few hands and broadcasters and advertisers would ask 'what is my fault if the ratings are not representative of the overall population'. There has to be a portion of social concern on the part of advertisers and broadcasters when such ratings are taken into consideration," she said.
Giving the example of BBC, Singh said that the channel had an international reach and was seen by people though it might not be guided by commercial aspect as it happened in India.
NDTV's Avinash Kaul said that the present rating system had failed miserably, and the sample size was inadequate. There should be a balance between the social aspect and the commercial aspect, he maintained.
In addition to inadequate sample size, most participants from the audience also agreed that content had degraded. The broadcasters' views were completely the opposite. Filmmaker N Chandra, in fact, questioned the authenticity of the TAM ratings and asked, "How is it guaranteed that no manipulations are being done?" To this TAM's Krishnan replied that they were in the business for 10 years and had there been no credibility in their rating system, advertisers would not have stood by them.
The participants agreed that the solution to the problem lay in developing an alternative system that represented the major chunk of the population. Content should not be guided by TRPs, they said, adding, consumers should be approached individually to understand their needs and that consumers needed to be given the right to vote using their mobile phones.
Another solution to the problem was the Broadcasters Audience Research Council, a new industry body that was created recently, which includes advertisers, broadcasters, advertising agencies, media agencies and the Government, to have a fair judgment on the ratings. It is yet to be seen how inclusive of the population the new ratings are and whether they dictate the content of television.