TRP investigation: Rigged ratings and its fallout on the industry

The latest police investigation into accusations of tampering of BARC data has once again brought the issue of TV measurement into the forefront

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Oct 9, 2020 4:50 PM

Even before the debate on content versus ratings could come to a logical conclusion, recent findings by the Mumbai police surrounding viewership measurements have put forth a new issue. In a case of what is being called the ‘TRP racket’, the Mumbai police has named a national news channel alongside two other regional channels, accusing them of tampering with BARC data.

While the police continue to investigate how BARC ratings were manipulated, they have also clearly mentioned ‘funds from advertising will be considered proceeds of crime’ if the accused are found guilty. Further investigations will also include a probe on finding out whether advertisers are victims or complicit in the case.

So what is TRP?

Television Rating Points (TRP) is a metric used in the marketing and advertising industry to measure the percentage of the target audience reached. For calculating ratings, BARC defines TRP as the percentage of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.

How is TRP measured by BARC?

BARC measures TRP by installing barometers in some houses. These are called ‘People's Meter’ and are connected to their TV sets. This device records for how long different channels or TV programmes are being watched.

The meter records the channel on which the TV is set, the programmes being played and for how long were the shows watched. This data from all the meters across the country is then compiled over a week and released by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). TRPs are released every Thursday and it documents all TV channels and the programmes running in there.

Why are TRPs important?

Higher the TRP, higher is a channel’s negotiating power with advertisers. With a drop in TRP channels may see an eventual reduction in ad bills. 

According to Elara Capital, even in a slow year like 2020, Hindi news and movie genres together contributed 20% of spend for TV advertising is based on viewership and TRPs, and the percentage is only growing. As per the latest TAM data, the news genre has added 31% share of ad volume between August and September, leaving behind GECs share of 26%.

As per the Pitch Madison Mid Year Advertising Report, TV news contributed anywhere between Rs 750 crore and Rs 900 crore in ad revenues in the first half of the year. The accuracy of TRPs thus plays a vital role in maintaining the stability of the ecosystem that is fuelled by nothing but ad dollars spent solely on the basis of views and reach.

TRP in the Indian news ecosystem is constantly being debated. Just a couple of months back, the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) reached out to BARC, expressing concerns about not just the ratings but also questioning the integrity and impartiality of the ratings body. NBF named a news channel and said there was scathing evidence to indicate manipulation and tampering of BARC meters by the group.

This time, however, the prime accused in introducing an anomaly into the system is Hansa Research Group, a consumer insights company.

As per the statement released by the Mumbai police, “One of the arrested persons and some of the wanted accused persons were employees of Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd and they have misused the confidential data which had been entrusted to them. It has apparently been done for wrongful gains of various TV channels, which had resulted in wrongful loss to various advertisers and their agencies.”

The statement also said, “Preliminary investigations also revealed that these accused persons have manipulated the sampling metering services by inducing the barometer users by paying them periodically to watch a particular TV channel / s.  Many of the people in whose homes these barometers have been installed have accepted that they have benefited monetarily for keeping their TV sets on even if they actually didn't watch it.”

Praveen Nijhara, CEO, Hansa Research, said, “Hansa Research and BARC conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks, the conclusion of which resulted in Hansa Research filing an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing. Hansa Research has always been vigilant about these issues and has been proactive in informing BARC and the law enforcement agencies as and when such cases have come to our notice. We would continue to cooperate with BARC and with the authorities as and when called upon to do so.”

The Mumbai Crime Branch unit had recently sent a notice to the BARC Vigilance Officer asking for certain documents pertaining to the case. The notice has also named an accused arrested in the case.

Soon after the Mumbai police chief’s press meet on Thursday Republic TV issued a statement saying:

“Mumbai Police Commissioner PB Singh has made false allegations against Republic TV because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation. Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against Mumbai Police Commissioner PB Singh there is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV. The people of India know the truth. Mr PB Singh’s investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud and this is a desperate measure because of Republic TV reportage on Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput case or any other case. This kind of targeting only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV to push for the truth even harder. PB Singh stands completely exposed today since BARC has not mentioned Republic in any single complaint. He should issue an official apology and get ready to face us in court.” – Arnab Goswami

Meanwhile, BARC also issued a statement on Thursday, saying: "As in all our previous cases of suspected panel homes intrusions, BARC India continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines. BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report ‘What India Watches’. BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it.”

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