NDTV’s lawsuit against TAM Media Research and its parent companies Nielsen and Kantar though dubbed “hypothetical” by WPP at the moment, citing reason that the lawsuit has not been served to WPP companies yet, has raised serious accusations not only against research agencies but also against broadcasters in India.
The lawsuit has brought out instances indicating that broadcasters in India are engaged in corrupt practices to increase the television ratings of their channels.
NDTV’s preliminary statement filed on July 26, 2012 stated that, while Nielsen, Kantar and TAM are “liable for abusing their dominant position in the Indian market, they are also liable for indulging in corrupt practices by manipulating viewership data in favour of channels that are willing to covertly provide monetary inducements/ payments/ bribes to TAM officials”.
A senior agency official reflected, “NDTV has said in its lawsuit that viewership data has been manipulated as per the requirement of paying channels. This points a finger towards channels that are doing well, isn’t it? If broadcasters are paying and if ratings are being manipulated, then it would reflect finally on the ratings chart. The lawsuit is hence raising questions on the integrity of all broadcasters.”
The preliminary statement said that since NDTV is amongst the “very few broadcasters that have refused to indulge in any corrupt practices, naturally its ratings have suffered”.
Of new and politics
NDTV’s lawsuit has also raised issues against politicians and political parties owned television channels. “Politicians also own cable networks in certain Indian states. At the household level, in certain instances PeopleMeters have been installed at the residences of government officials, where tampering of the data takes place,” quoted the statement.
It cited an NBA (News Broadcasters Association) meeting on November 24, 2011 to impress that the President of NBA, KVL Narayan Rao, also the Executive Vice Chairperson of NDTV had to bring to the notice of the Board a “serious matter” which needed the Board’s immediate attention relating to reports of “fiddling of TAM’s PeopleMeters”.
Rao informed the Board that some broadcasters were indulging in undesirable activity, giving a bad name to the rest. He said that he had been made aware of how tampering was being done and cited some of the unethical practices in this regard such as subverting the ratings system by “discovering” the panel homes that have PeopleMeters installed in them, doctoring data emerging from “parallel homes”, providing a separate TV in select panel homes for viewing while the TV linked to the meter was tuned to specified channels, misuse of the guest button where up to 10 guests can be shown watching even when there is no one there, specified marketing in localities that have panel homes, subverting the technician and using him to “fix” the PeopleMeter while tuning and skipping channels in the process.
The NBA Board on the day passed a resolution condemning the subversion of TAM data and stated that if any information was received of unethical practices being adopted by broadcasters, severe action would be taken against the concerned member broadcaster. “But was it executed,” asked another senior official of the fraternity, adding, “If there was so much evidence of corruption against broadcasters who were party to the unethical practices along with TAM, then there had to be some action taken somewhere at some point, especially when a resolution was passed in a broadcaster association. So, are we saying that there were no corrupt broadcasters found or that other broadcasters did not take any action despite deciding to do so?”
Who are these corrupt channels?
The lawsuit has very specifically mentioned a meeting dated February 24, 2012 between NDTV distribution representatives and a broadcaster. NDTV’s statement said that during the meeting, the broadcaster stated that the “top management of his channel was involved in corrupt practices to fix ratings”.
In another meeting, of February 28, 2012, NDTV representatives pointed out how one of the channels was indulging in manipulation of data since 2008 at least in Bangalore and Karnataka, and also pointed out how a certain channel had ascended to the top of the ratings in just six months.
“Who are these channels? Everyone would be venturing guesses of their own and calculating which channels launched in 2008, did well in the south markets and which channel became the number one channel in six months. Specific channels and broadcast companies have not been named in the lawsuit, for obvious reasons. But that has left it open for all kinds of speculations. NDTV’s lawsuit may be demanding damages from the research agencies and their parent bodies but it has accused just about every important stakeholders of the business,” said a media veteran and a senior former television executive.