Mixed Media: Hey Minister! Leave the ratings alone!

The Government must do no more than issue guidelines for television ratings, writes Pradyuman Maheshwari, reacting to reports that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry could play an active role in the TV viewership measurement process.

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published: May 11, 2010 8:11 AM  | 4 min read
Mixed Media: Hey Minister! Leave the ratings alone!

There are some things which the Information and Broadcasting Ministry loves to tinker around with. Unfortunately, most of it has got to do with content. The stuff that you see in advertisements, films, television serials, news channels, newspapers and magazines… all of it comes under attack for even minor excesses.

Guess if it’s an excess, it’s got to be damned, but I really wonder why the Government of India must get into all of the things that it must steer clear of. Thankfully for us, we have a minister in Ambika Soni who is reasonably progressive. So even if the Prime Minister’s Office is reported to have not thought too highly of her performance, in my mind, the fact that she’s been able to guarantee us a hands-off consultative approach is good enough.

Agreed she’s been able to achieve precious little for Doordarshan. Fifty years, the pubcaster may have the reach, but it’s got no equity with the people who matter.

The lady’s job is not simple. As minister, she’s answerable to a few hundred Members of Parliament each of who has a view on the ways of the media. It was a Parliamentary Committee headed by a BJP member (Venkaiah Naidu) who said that self-regulation won’t work with news channels who are forever chasing ratings.

TRP, as TAM CEO LV Krishnan rues, is part of the average Indian’s lexicon. And you don’t need LV to tell you this, but channels, wanting to earn higher returns for their promoter’s investment, are out to do anything they can to achieve it.

Like it or not, content strategies depend largely on ratings. And with reason. If that’s the currency media buyers employ to decide on the worthiness of a channel, then there is need to embrace one or both of the ratings companies. Right now, most in the business follow TAM and aMap has been struggling to make its presence felt.

But it upsets me no end when one reads the government is actively considering policing the ratings process. According to reports, this is said to be in public interest. In the past, many politicians have pooh-poohed the ratings process. Guess the I&B Ministry’s interest in process stems from it.

From the little I know of it, I think TAM is as structured as one can get. Agreed there are miles to go, the sample size maybe small for being able to judge the interests of country with a population that’s higher than a billion, but to a great extent it does mirror the viewing patterns of the populace.

The reason why the government wants to police ratings is the complaints it has received on the adverse impact of ratings on television content. Now, this is applicable to all forms of measurement as smart operators obviously try to ensure that their fare is ratings-friendly. Since the stakes are high, channels and radio stations will do whatever it takes to up their numbers.

In fact, the problem is not just with viewership ratings but even print readership. Newspapers, forever in search of higher figures, also tweak their offering to enthuse the cover TG.

The government plans to set up an 8-member committee possibly under FICCI chief Dr Amit Mitra to relook at the current ratings system. I will be keen to know what this committee finds out.

Ambika Soni and her ministry would do well to ensure that its role in the ratings process ends here. Just providing guidelines are fine, any other interference is harmful.

Even if the government were to set up a ratings process, it would be interesting to see how many people will actually use it as currency, the way they use TAM’s ratings. (Btw, the way, TAM, for the info of people in the info and broadcasting ministry, has factored in the various misgivings of people. And it continues to upgrade itself continually.

While I am not blind to the fact that many private players are not aboveboard, this clearly doesn’t allow licence for the Government to interfere with a system that’s been working fine for all these year. Ms Soni, please don’t get into the shoes of some of your predecessors. Lay the guidelines and leave the channels (and the professionals working there) alone.

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