TRP Scam: Can Return Path Data be the solution to meter tampering?

Industry experts say Return Path Data system can be one of the solutions, but its implementation is difficult and can take another few years

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Oct 19, 2020 9:12 AM

The recent TRP controversy has raised a lot of concerns over the audience measurement system. Even though Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, in its various official communications, has stated that it owns and manages a transparent, accurate and inclusive TV audience measurement system, industry experts feels there can be some long-term solutions for this problem of manipulation of the television rating points by tampering BARC meters.

exchange4media spoke to several industry leaders to understand what can be the solutions to this problem, and most of them feel Return Path Data (RPD) can be one of them.

A senior analyst, on the condition of anonymity, shared that the whole TRP fraud has not only raised questions over the credibilty of news channels but has negatively impacted the overall television business. Though BARC has suspended ratings of news channels for three months, nobody knows what will happen after that, he added.

According to the analyst, a long-term solution will be to move away from a people-meter model and use the RPD model, and have a panel of 20 million because it will be not be easy to influence 20 million people.

RPD is the audience television viewing data that comes from set-top boxes installed at the DTH subscribers’ home. As per several reports, the data derived from RPD provides incredibly granular audience measurement data. It gives TV operators all the insights like which channel is watched and for how much duration.

In 2017, BARC India partnered with cable distribution player DEN Networks for measuring TV viewership using RPD via its digital set-top boxes. As part of this partnership, BARC India could fetch data from STBs of DEN Networks. DEN networks could also use this data for subscriber management, packaging opportunities and to drive advertising revenue on their in-house channels.

“Some years back, BARC suggested using RPD in order to make viewership data tamper-proof, and hence partnered with DEN Network. But later this collection of RPD through set-top boxes didn’t happen because other platforms objected to giving STB data. If implemented, RPD can still be the solution because it increases panel size. But this exercise will take nothing less than two years as it is a complex thing. But it is the only possible thing that can be done,” said another industry observer.

Another media expert, however, did not agree with the idea that RPD could be the only solution. According to him the issue is not how BARC measures the data, and the notion that RPD will solve the problem is not right.
"Rather, it will create another set of new problems. In RPD, we only get the data on what channels are being watched, but not who is watching. RPD is just set-top box's data, and that too can be tampered.”

As an industry, to stop such frauds, we must look at the what business model channels are following, he suggested.

Currently, 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.

The case started when the Mumbai police claimed to have unearthed a scam and named a national news channel alongside two other regional channels, accusing them of tampering with BARC data to drive TRPs. The police said ‘funds from advertising will be considered proceeds of crime’ if the accused are found guilty.
The scam has led to a massive debate on the functioning of news channels. Taking a stand, some brands like Bajaj, Parle, Dollar and Amul announced that they will boycott channels that spread toxicity, abuse and fake news to drive TRPs.

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