How BARC plans to fulfil its promises

The countdown has started to the April launch of the industry's new television audience measurement system, BARC. Partho Dasgupta, CEO of BARC, takes us through the nuances of the system, while stakeholders speak of expectations from it, its workings and the road ahead

e4m by Srabana Lahiri & Simran Sabherwal
Updated: Mar 10, 2015 12:00 AM
How BARC plans to fulfil its promises

With a big buzz in the industry around the highly anticipated though delayed television measurement system, Partho Dasgupta, CEO of BARC says things are on track to roll out BARC data towards April, and that BARC will look to deliver on three critical criteria that were part of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) guidelines - a larger panel size than the current rating agency, not more than 10% cross-holding by any advertising agency or broadcasting group and transparency in operations.


In Phase I, BARC’s initial plan is to cover 20,000 households across India, with 25,000 BARometers. However, at launch only 60-65% of that number will be operational and will cover 1 lakh+ markets. BARC aims to reach 20,000 meters in three months time; and by July end towns below 1 lakh and rural areas will be covered. But, will this truly represent Indian TV consumption habits? Dasgupta says, “Statistically, 20,000 is not a good number but it is roughly about three times what the present system is.” He further states that the strategy adopted has been to go deeper in the six metros and wider across India ensuring a deeper penetration. BARC plans to increase the number of BARometers to 50,000 in three years time, but whether this sample size too adequately reflects India’s diverse and heterogeneous audience is a question that one has to ask. 

With technology being the buzzword at BARC, the company has placed its bets on the Watermarking technology it has adopted, in which a code is inserted into the audio beam of the channel and this code is later picked up by the BARometer. Dasgupta says that this technology will do away with the errors in the earlier system, which relied on frequency matching. Even as we wait to see the results, close to 280 channels have already invested in this technology and BARC estimates that 350 channels will be on board by its launch.

According to Dasgupta, another game-changer will be in the form of its software BMW – the BARC India Media Workstation. Pegged to be user-friendly, Dasgupta explains that its features help make better analysis which in turn will aid decision processes faster. On BMW, data generation can be done within the software and BARC says that this will allow media agencies and broadcasters to possibly use staff more effectively for sharper analysis.

Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Times Now comments, “The most interesting thing for me from BARC from a user perspective is the very exciting user interface; I can map my ratings to the content far more closely and that allows me an opportunity to respond to the ratings in terms of understanding the viewer.” What has Goswami excited is also the feature TeleView, which allows the subscriber to see how ratings have actually moved during a show.
The interface also has impressed Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO South Asia - Dentsu Aegis Network, Chairman Posterscope & psLIVE - Asia Pacific: “The interface is far more attractive than what is presently being used. If the in-built optimiser works effectively, we will have a standard optimiser across the country which is positive for the industry in the long run.”


The other big change is BARC move to NCCS – New Consumer Classification system which classifies Indian consumers on the parameters of education and consumer durables (from a pre-decided list of 11) present at home. The parameters of the current SEC classification, in use since 1988, were the occupation and education of the chief wage earner of the family.
Broadcasters and media planners believe that it could help marketers target consumers more effectively. G K Suresh, Vice President-Marketing, Foods Division, ITC Ltd says, “The new classification is more real in terms of who has the money to spend. The earlier one used a deductive logic and therefore was not necessarily a true representation of consumers’ disposable income. At least on paper, it sounds to be more robust than the earlier one especially as rural sales are growing faster than urban in almost every single FMCG category.” Planners also says that many companies, particularly FMCG, base their research on the consumers spending power as this acts as a lifestyle indicator, and it was time to change the classification to reflect the India of today.


It’s not just marketers but even broadcasters who could be looking at the new classification and audiences with fresh perspective. Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Media brands India & Chairman BARC India Technical Committee says, “With NCCS mapping the audience differently, and 46% reflecting in the top AB layer, the big thing that people don’t realize is that we can expect content to change dramatically. The regressive programming reflected the SEC C numbers and now there will be an attempt to create programmes of a particular quality. It is going to be revolutionary and change the way programming is done.”

The many reported anomalies and variance in data from TAM has been a major cause of concern for broadcasters over the years.  BARC looks to address this by monitoring any anomaly in viewership pattern. Any sudden anomaly or change in viewership pattern will result in the sample household being removed from the rating system and being put under vigilance. To ensure seamless data, BARC has put in place buffer homes (and also dummy homes) so that the particular household can be removed from the grid. It remains to be seen how BARC deals with data vagaries especially if there is a drop in ratings for any major network, when the pressure to increase numbers stems right from the top. In an effort to maintain transparency and efficiency, BARC has even employed hackers.

On a positive note, the increased sample size should specially benefit special interest channels. Monica Tata, MD, HBO India says, “If there is a genuine upside in the universe which captures an audience consumption pattern from a quality of data point of view, then it will be a pleasant change for English audience channels. But frankly, it is not done till it is done as they say, so let’s just wait till the actual first round of data analysis comes out for everyone to have a very specific point of view.”


It is anticipated that the new system would lead to an initial flux in the industry until people start making sense of the new data. Suresh says, “Marrying the new classification with the old and what implications it has for our media plans, how do I maintain continuity of looking at data, that’s going to be a nightmare. But, that’s an operational problem and what we are trying to solve is a larger issue.” Kataria believes the challenge is that generations of marketers, agencies and researchers have grown up on earlier classification and this would require a shift in thinking from all. 

With a completely new matrix, software, demographics - understanding all parameters may take some time. The move to the new format will thus see the initial few months being spent on educating people on how to use the data in a relevant manner. Kataria says, “BARC is an advanced tracking system with state of the art monitoring technology, expanded and representative footprint and a rigorous audit mechanism. We believe that once it stabilises, it should give a sharp and more analytical measurement to the entire eco-system.”


While some members have questioned TAM’s pricing model claiming it to be arbitrary and negotiable, BARC says that the pricing model adopted by it will be totally transparent. Says Bhasin, “As an industry overall, I don’t expect we will be paying too much more. This is a not-for-profit organisation, owned by the three industry bodies and the primary objective is not profit making.” He adds, “There are more features and meters on the ground, so while there may be some increase, it will be slight increase on an industry level. On an individual agency/channel level, it might vary depending on what you have been paying but some may benefit while some may not.” The general assessment by industry experts is that as BARC is providing better technology and twice the number of meters, at the same costing of TAM, a marginal price hike is acceptable.


With the faces of BARC’s symbol the Rubik Cube now falling in place, the focus is on getting subscriptions in place. To increase the pace, IBF and AAAI have sent advisories to their members to subscribe to BARC. On whether TAM and BARC will co-exist, Sinha says, “In the short run, they may be two, but in the long run there can only be one currency.” Even Bhasin concurs with this thought and says, “We have seen in the past that two currencies only cause confusion. It’s a waste of the industry’s resources to have two currencies.” Stakeholders, particularly smaller networks and regional players, feel that the cost of subscribing to two rating agencies will be high. While some experts believe that TAM will remain as both ratings can co-exist, if any broadcaster were to also witness a fall in BARC rating, it may then choose to subscribe to both at least till the time data stabilizes. However, almost all broadcasters contacted chose to remain tight-lipped about the future course of action they would take.

While it will be a while before clarity finally emerges on the television ratings scenario, it certainly is an interesting road ahead for the Indian television industry.

Here’s what Dasgupta had to say about several BARC facts:


The BARC BAR-O-meter is completely indigenously developed. At Rs 25,000 per box(of which a large amount goes in Govt taxes), it is one-sixth the cost of the Nielsen and Kantar PeopleMeter box sold globally. As the meter cost is low, going up to 50,000 becomes that much easier. We will try and bring this cost down further.


We expect our total billing for April-March 15-16 (FY16) to be approximately around Rs 150 crore. With roughly three times the number of TAM meters and better technology, we should be roughly equal to their total billing. The way we have financially engineered the project, we have brought down costs and looked at cost-effective technology. We have also ensured most stakeholders dont have to invest any serious cash in the business for the setup stage.


The next thing that’s keeping us busy and worried is not just Television but Digital. Our technology enables us to measure Digital platforms and we will be looking at Digital Reporting in the future. In the next phase, we are also working on measuring split signalling for Local TV. Essentially, we want to be ahead of the curve on how consumers watch TV.


The big challenge is getting people to understand the data. The big changes in classification with NCCS technology, people have not understood it clearly. It will take a few months for people to comprehend how to use this wealth of data. That’s where we have to work hard in reaching out to them one by one and telling them how they can use the provided data which is contextual and much more relevant. The first few months will go in educating people in how to use the data.


We are completely prepared for a full competition from the marketing/sales point of view and don’t want to leave any stone unturned. From the business point of view, will do everything that is needed and have been doing everything that is needed.

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