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Provision for RPD be made mandatory in all set-top boxes: TV rating committee to MIB

In its 39-page report to MIB, the committee has also recommended setting up of an appellate body for grievance redressal and mediation of disputes between stakeholders and ratings agencies

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Nov 10, 2021 8:52 AM  | 5 min read
Tv ratings

The four-member committee formed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to review guidelines for TV rating agencies in India has recommended that provision for Return Path Data (RPD) be made a mandatory capability in all future set-top boxes (STBs) deployed by Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs), so that RPD becomes a ubiquitous capability on par with encryption, conditional access and other such mandatory STB-level capabilities.

Experts believe that RPD will help BARC India to expand the panel size, make the viewership data more robust, and give better representation to niche genres. It is pertinent to note that BARC India had tied up with Airtel Digital TV and DEN Networks for including subscriber homes into the BARC India RPD panel. BARC India had plans to fuse household viewership data from different DPOs with its in-house TV viewership data in order to get better representation of actual viewing habits. However, the initiative failed to take off.

The committee has further suggested that collection of viewership data by DPOs should be governed by privacy norms prescribed by the government/regulator and additionally the sale or sharing of such viewership data by the DPOs with third parties should be governed by the guidelines for television rating systems.

It has asked the MIB to direct BARC India to accelerate the integration of already available RPD data into its ratings' framework within a period of six months. Further, a joint industry working group with representation from all relevant stakeholders and independent experts may be set up to specify the norms for an industry-wide RPD mandate, to codify privacy protection, to govern sale/sharing of RPD data in a transparent/accountable manner.

In July, Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Anurag Thakur had said that the government has analysed and evaluated the recommendations made by the four-member committee headed by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar on strengthening the existing TV rating guidelines. "The recommendations have been analysed and evaluated vis-à-vis their being translated, if required, into in the existing guidelines wherever required," Thakur said.

In its 39-page report to the MIB, the committee headed by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has also recommended setting up of an industry-wide appellate body for grievance redressal and mediation of disputes between stakeholders and ratings agencies. It has also recommended that the guidelines must not place barriers on emergence of multiple ratings agencies and work towards ensuring that all invisible barriers that have prevented emergence of multiple rating agencies be eliminated.

Furthermore, the committee wants the MIB to set up a dedicated regulatory body to regulate multiple ratings agencies. The committee has recommended creation of a specialised media ratings regulator, drawing on the experiences of SEBI in regulating credit rating agencies and of the experience of the Media Ratings Council in the United States in specifying minimum standards for multiple rating agencies and for accrediting and auditing such ratings agencies.

In order to incentivise innovation and to nurture such start-ups in this space, the committee has suggested that the government/regulator should examine incentives and policy interventions including FDI norms in this technology space so that India emerges as the hub for global innovation in media audience measurement and indigenous technology development is fostered to promote self-reliance/Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

The committee has also recommended setting up a joint research working group with representatives of stakeholder bodies and independent technical experts to develop the same while specifying ecosystem-wide common notations, definitions, terminologies, metrics, indices, and computation methodologies. Such a joint research effort would pave the way for adoption of India relevant methodologies such as stratified sampling with proportional allocation for better representation of the diverse and complex audience universe found in India.

It has also strongly recommended combining traditional sample based statistical approaches with big data approaches to overcome limitations of sample-based panels and to allay concerns over how representative such samples are.

The committee has recommended modification of Clause 5.3 in the guidelines on Panel Selection to allow enriching the panel data with RPD Data and for achieving the objective of “panel size as a percentage of total TV households” to be in line with global benchmarks of large and diverse markets such as the United States.

To eliminate perverse incentives arising from frequent reporting of TV ratings in certain genres and their release in the public domain, the committee recommends that the frequency of reporting for such genres be reduced to monthly or less frequent reporting. Further, the committee recommends that public release of data for such genres be limited to significant events of high public interest which may have had genre wide impact on viewership.

The committee, which was formed in November 2020, had consulted and deliberated on the various facets of the issues surrounding television audience measurement, concerns regarding its integrity, international trends, and best practices and on the views of various stakeholders. The committee also examined at length recent recommendations of the sector regulator and the guidelines currently in force.

"The committee’s recommendations address both immediate steps that need to be taken to restore faith in the integrity of the ratings system as well as on long-term measures that may be considered in view of emerging technology trends and market dynamics. Ultimately the effectiveness of any system of television ratings will depend on the consensual faith all stakeholders repose in the system while abiding by a common code of conduct on how data is collected, measured, published, interpreted and applied as a currency of decision-making," Vempati said in the Chairperson's note.

"Sophistication of algorithms, scale and diversity of panels are no substitute for the shared values and ethics that must govern any such system. The committee’s recommendations will fully serve their purpose only when the fabric of trust that binds together stakeholders, ensures their continued commitment to the foundational ethics, values governing audience measurement in India," he added.

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