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Theories abound on likely ratings blackout as polls approach

30-January-2014
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Theories abound on likely ratings blackout as polls approach

The fresh TV ratings guidelines have sent the broadcast industry into a tizzy. One of the clauses of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which have received the Union Cabinet’s approval, state, “No single company/ legal entity, either directly or through its associates or interconnect undertakings, shall have substantial equity holding, that is, 10 per cent or more of paid up equity in both rating agencies and broadcasters/ advertisers/ advertising agencies.”

This clause will have a direct impact on TAM Media’s operations. As of now, TAM is the sole industry-recognised ratings agency in India. As is known, Kantar Media and Nielsen are the two parent companies of TAM and the 10 per cent equity stake clause puts question mark on these two companies’ holding in TAM. To top it all, TAM has time only till February 16, 2014 to implement the 10 per cent equity clause.

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has deferred a stay in the writ petition filed by Kantar Media and the next hearing has been fixed for February 11, 2014.

In the meantime, the industry is gearing up to have an alternate ratings body in place, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which will be operational not before October 1, 2014.

In this context, the broadcast industry stares at a scenario when there will be a ratings blackout for the period between February 16 and October 1. A crucial period considering that the Lok Sabha elections are slated during this period, with the voting likely to being in April.

Elections are undoubtedly the biggest event for news channels, and the likely ratings blackout scenario has sections of the industry questioning whether there are ulterior motives in play behind this state of affairs, beyond having a more efficient and transparent ratings system in place.

It is no secret that the recent Assembly elections have seen the Congress take a beating, even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued to gain grounds.

Theories abound as to whether the ruling Government is attempting to regulate the television ratings in the country. A news broadcaster, on condition of anonymity, said that they have received instructions from the Government to cover the Congress party prominently on their channels. All these activities are allegedly part of the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, which will help the Congress gain extra mileage.

This won’t be the first instance when news channels have faced political diktats. It may be recalled that recently it came to light that the Uttar Pradesh Government had allegedly asked local cable operators to black out some television news channels to prevent them from covering its lavish Saifai Mahotsav.

Questions are being raised as to whether there would be diktats given regarding coverage given to particular political party/ parties as part of news channels’ election coverage plans.

While TV ratings will not impact the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections, they are bound to impact the coverage of certain political parties and the air time that they get.

Meanwhile, broadcasters have mixed views on the possible scenario of a ratings blackout. One broadcaster, on condition of anonymity, remarked, “The blackout will not affect news channels much since they sell their space on the basis of credibility and advertisers will opt for old data.”

Another broadcaster commented, “Ratings blackout will affect GECs more than news channels as the former’s numbers change every week and hence, they are more sensitive to ratings.” At the same time he added, “For a while the ratings blackout will not have much impact, however, if it continues for long then it will be difficult for the advertising and broadcasting industry as this blackout will narrow down the advertising.”

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