Smriti Irani discusses possibility of sampling data at MSO level

The Information and Broadcasting Minister recently met major Multiple-System Operators to discuss various issues, including govt's plan to collect and distribute sampling data itself.

Taking her proposal to install a chip in the new set-top-boxes which can give data about channels watched and their duration forward, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani recently met major Multiple-System Operators (MSOs) to discuss various issues, including government's plan to collect and distribute sampling data itself. 

Representatives from Siti Cable Network Ltd, Hathway Cable & Datacom Ltd, Den Networks Ltd, GTPL Hathway Pvt Ltd and Indian Cable Net Co. Ltd, among others, were present in the meeting.

“The MSOs have been told to position a paper outlining how sampling data can be extracted from set-top-boxes (STBs) and communicated back to the central servers,” the source said. The minister has asked the participants to give a presentation on the plan of action and feasibility in the next meeting, the source added. 

The meeting also discussed that if the plan works out well, the MSOs would be able to know which channel is more popular for making a deal. 

"Right now, MSOs are given bundles without any data. It will be useful for MSOs because at the time of renewal of the deal, they will have data on how many subscribers are watching any given channel," the source said.

Another source, who was present in the meeting, said that the issue of television rating was just one of the topics of discussion.  "She (Smriti Irani) asked various things from the MSOs to do in the light of digitisation and one of the areas was sampling," said a third source who was also present in the meeting.
The minister asked if the MSOs can get permission from the consumers so that sampling can be carried out on a billing basis to avoid controversy over breach of data privacy, claimed a source.

Another source who was also present in the meeting said, "We told her that it was not possible as it requires two-way communication which is not there right now. We need to make STBs with two-way communication. That’s where she wanted our help to know how this technology can work. What will be the expenses, if it is feasible and how the privacy issues can be addressed."

“MIB wants to do this in a transparent way and distribute the data free," the first source said and added that the minister is against its “capitalisation”.

“The minister wanted sampling of the consumers to be done. BARC does sampling of specific households. She doesn’t want it for specific households but across (subscribers). So this might be a much bigger thing than what BARC is doing," one of the sources present in the meeting said.

However, the same source added that most of the MSOs (in India) have set-top-boxes which do not support two-way communication. It requires a lot of investment. "So, to say that MSOs can do the job that BARC was doing, I think it is farfetched as of now." 

The two-way communication that the sources talk about is the technology called Return Path Data(RPD). Presently, in India, TAM Media Research, a 50:50 joint venture between global media research organizations Nielsen & Kantar Media Research, started full-fledged usage of RPD with Tata Sky, a direct broadcast satellite television provider in India, covering its over 26,000 subscribers.

While the minister was not available for comments when we tried to reach to her, in past speaking on the issue to another media house, she had said 

"I have said time and again that the data needs to be democratised — that data cannot have a few masters. It is this data that helps fund channels and programmes. It is this data that drives what the viewer consumes. Advertising decisions are based on this data. The kind of programmes produced is based on this data. If the data is opaque, it leaves many questions unanswered." For more updates, subscribe to exchange4media's WhatsApp Channel- https://bit.ly/2QUdLCK

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