Govt can't put chip in set-top-box without consumer's consent

Nitin Kamat, VP, TAM Media Research, tells exchange4media that TAM had introduced this technology 10 years ago

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Apr 23, 2018 8:59 AM

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) last month wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) proposing it to ask “DTH operators to install a chip in the new set-top-boxes which can give data about channels watched and their duration”.  The proposal was widely discussed in the media as it was perceived by many as a move by the government to “spy” on people.

However, this is not the first time when such a technology will be used in India. TAM Media Research, a 50:50 joint venture between global media research organizations Nielsen & Kantar Media Research, had started small trials of this technology in 2008 itself. It happened at the time when digital set-top-boxes had entered the Indian market. The technology is called Return Path Data (RPD).

During the last quarter of 2016, TAM started full-fledged usage of RPD in India with Tata Sky, a direct broadcast satellite television provider in India, covering its over 26,000 subscribers. So, Tata Sky, for the last two years, has already been collecting data about its subscribers’ viewership pattern/behaviour using data sourced from the return path (RPD).

To understand the much-talked-about technology in detail exchange4media interacted with Nitin Kamat - Vice President and RPD Project Head, TAM Media Research.

Here’s the excerpt:

What is the purpose of ‘Return Path Data’ (RPD) and who will it actually benefit from it?

RPD is primarily a response mechanism to understand viewer consumption of content on television. Simplistically put, it is similar to various researches conducted to understand the consumer consumption of products & services across various sectors like:
a) Buyers of an automobile brand is contacted to check their feedback on performance of their vehicle
b) Consumers of FMCG categories like detergents are asked for a feedback on brand performance related to effective removal of dirt from the clothes
c) Owners of consumer durables like refrigerators are asked for feedback on after-sales service or the performance of the brand
For the above three researches, the methodology used for Q&A is may be paper & pen or a telephonic call or on e-mail. All these are non-automated approaches. In RPD, the process is automated, whereby the STB is designed to build a response process in collecting the data on viewing. In all the processes, including RPD, the respondent's cooperation is always asked for prior to the data collection and usage.

The data thus collected in all research forms is used to help either create new products or improve the existing product’s performance. Similarly, in case of RPD, the collected data is used to create & broadcast or stream content that is preferable for different types of consumers/viewers. The data also helps tailor-make the content for audiences which can be packaged and presented for easy time-band or day viewing on their preferable platform.

Do you think consent from the subscribers is required before tracking their viewership pattern?

Of course, all research exercises are conducted only after taking consent from the respondent. In case of RPD too, the data collection is only from a specific sample set of homes and it is executed only after taking a written confirmation from the panel home subscribing at a particular platform. The selection of respondent home for activating the data is done scientifically using statistical methods on demographic variables that helps in projecting the sample data to the overall universe of viewers in a particular platform.

Should government have the right to use tracking technologies like RPD, Why or Why not?

Any organization or government, with the right knowledge or background and after taking the consent from the consumer or subscriber, can track consumption behaviour of a consumer related to the products he/she has purchased or content he/she is viewing or listening or reading. The objective of the exercise is to only help serve the consumer content as per his/her interest/preference. If the consumer doesn't want their preferences to be tracked, they can easily opt out of the research exercise.

Why do you think RPD has not been much used in India, unlike many other countries?

The use of RPD technology is not new across the globe. But even across the world, the implementation of RPD is still limited. Global research organizations like Kantar Media & Rentrack use RPD technology in markets such as US, UK, Australia, South Africa and Italy etc. In India, TAM along with its parent company Kantar Media uses this technology. TAM kick-started small trials as early as 2008 when digital STBs entered India market. With the extensive knowledge TAM had in this space, it started full-fledged usage of RPD in 2016.

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