Partho Dasgupta, CEO of BARC India, talks to exchange4media about one year of the industry’s new broadcast audience measurement system, the challenge of integrating TAM meters into the BARC structure, why broadcasters can’t rely on past trends and more...
What were the challenges you encountered once the BARC ratings rolled out? What were the corrective measures undertaken?
One big challenge for which we have not been able to take any corrective measure is over-segmentation of the country. The other would be the word used for data that ‘it is volatile’. We figured that the data is not volatile, but it is high fidelity. When we saw the data for the first time with the new technology, we realized that there was a basis to it. The big challenge was to communicate to people that what you are seeing is right. The first two to three months were spent making people understand, and after they started anticipating those changes. Any intervention in terms of content or distribution was showing up on the numbers very clearly.
When the Rural data was released for the first time, what caught some by surprise was the viewership for English entertainment was higher than expected...
We were not caught by surprise. At first glance, you would be shocked, but then when you look at the other environmental factors, you realize what is coming out is absolutely right. This is what happened in Rural. The first month, there were a lot of questions and after that, people understood the reasons.
What have been the key learnings over the last one year?
The one big learning is what we call ‘past can’t predict future’. Whether it’s some big news or a big cricket match or how a broadcaster plays the storyline, what you have done in the past can’t predict the future and hence you can’t really go by trend graphs. That is a very big learning, and we are telling everybody that what happened in the past need not necessarily happen in the future. Past trends are good for accountants, but not for our kind of business. The fidelity of data is obvious. If comedian Kapil Sharma is there in the show, whether Arnab Goswami is present on The Newshour or not, it clearly shows up on the data. When the earthquake happened in Nepal, the fidelity was reflected in the way how a few news channels broke the stories.
What are the challenges for you, looking ahead?
The big one is the successful integration of the TAM meters into our system and that is a fairly large task at hand; it’s absolutely not easy with people and the meters. The next big one would be to increase the sample size, the way it has been planned is to get more meaningful data of what India watches. The next medium term goal would be digital measurement.
Recently at FICCI-Frames 2016, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he was not impressed by the new measurement system and that something should be done to make the television ratings more accurate. Your comment?
There are two parts to the comment. One is that we operate under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s notification dated January 2014 which clearly says, apart from other ownership issues, how many meters should be there, how it should be scaled up. We are following it to the T, no questions asked.
The second part is that we are a joint industry body. We have the largest sample of meters in the world. Sampling is based on some amount of statistical issues, because of the fabric of the country and also based on affordability. Can the country or can the ecosystem afford bigger numbers? I don’t think so. We have a definite roadmap ahead, which we will follow as per the government guidelines.
How difficult is it or how easy is it to deal with the stakeholders, particularly broadcasters?
I read a quote - that when you are a referee in a match, you have to expect that the players will shout at you when the judgment doesn’t go for them, whatever may be the reason. So, it’s all part of life. It does become difficult sometimes when people do not know what is happening on the ground. When they don’t know that a satellite has changed its transponder and hence ratings have fallen or when they don’t know that some distributor or some cable operator has actually switched him off. These issues will remain, but we have to keep on educating them and helping them.
How satisfied are you with what BARC has achieved so far?
Personally, extremely satisfied. We were up against not just one wall, but quite a few walls.
How can you improve your offerings, especially to service broadcasters?
We have some limitations also. As per the government guidelines, we can’t do play any advisory or consulting role with our stakeholders, which basically means beyond a point, we can’t get into too much of why ratings have fallen or ratings have gone up. Hence, there is a certain amount of those expectations which we have to temper, saying that we should not be explaining. It is taking time, but it will all be in place.