TRP Scam: Will BARC’s credibility take a hit?

Not really, feel experts who say the industry continues to rely on the data provided by BARC

e4m by Sonam Saini
Published: Jan 4, 2021 8:52 AM  | 5 min read

The year 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), India’s only television audience measurement body in the country. Starting from the controversy over TV 9’s “unusual” spike in ratings, to the landing page issue and the most recent TRP scam, BARC has been in a tight spot throughout the year.

The TRP controversy and the arrest of 15 people, including former CEO Partho Dasgupta and COO Romil Ramgarhia, has led to questions being raised about the credibility and effectiveness of the measuring body.

So, has the scam really eroded the industry’s trust in BARC? Will the controversy impact the relationship between broadcasters and advertisers?

Not really, feels industry watchers.

According to experts, the on-going controversy is unlikely to have any major impact on the relationship between broadcasters and advertisers. 

“There has been a change in the leadership of BARC and the new management at the industry body has ensured that viewership data is delivered accurately. The industry continues to rely on the data provided by BARC,” said a top executive at one of the leading broadcast companies on the condition of anonymity.

However, some in the industry feel that the scam might impact smaller and new channels to some extent.

“The larger broadcasters or broadcasters with a strong brand recall will not get impacted in terms of advertising spends, but it might have a negative impact on the smaller channels or the new channels which are soon to be launched,” mentioned a media planner.

The fact that the controversy might not impact the relationship between broadcasters and advertisers was reflected when BARC decided to suspend the ratings of the news genre for 12 weeks after the alleged scam was unearthed. Despite the data blackout, the news genre continued to get advertisers’ support, indicating that apart from ratings, brand value plays an important role in the TRP game.

The alleged rating manipulation in the news genre has also raised some doubts about the credibility of ratings in other genres. But even this does not seem to bother the industry players.

“We haven’t heard anything wrong happening in the other genres yet. Currently, the concerns are more skewed towards the news genre and advertisers are likely to spend more on the channels that have been in the business for over a decade,” said the media observer.

Another senior media expert added, “BARC is an industry body which has its broad of directors and a core tech committee. When it comes to credibility, I think it is just a matter of time and BARC will stand strong. BARC has already suspended the news viewership data for 12 weeks. The current management team at BARC is putting in all the effort into measuring the viewership data accurately.”

Post the arrest of its ex-employees, BARC India issued an official statement stating that the development related to the two ex-employees of BARC India is a part of an ongoing investigation for which BARC management continues to extend its support and cooperation to the law enforcement agencies. It would consequently be inappropriate for BARC to comment any further at this stage, the statement read.

It further stated that every employee of BARC India is expected to conform to a Code of Conduct & Ethics and any infringement invites suitable dis

ciplinary action. “We will continue to ensure that What India Watches is reported accurately and with the utmost integrity. It’s a responsibility we owe all our stakeholders,” the statement added.

The scam came to light on October 8 when Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh claimed that they have probed a case of manipulation of TRPs by distorting the apparatus used by BARC to rate television channels. The police said the accused were bribing households to keep a particular channel running.

In a statement, the Mumbai police said, "The Detection Crime Branch have busted a major racket which is fraudulently involved in manipulating Television Ratings Points (TRP).”

Since then Mumbai Police has made 15 arrests in the case. On the arrest of Dasgupta, Mumbai police said that the former CEO of the TV rating agency has misused his position and manipulated data to keep Times Now at the number two slot despite a higher viewership. 

The Mumbai Crime Branch, in a press conference, said that the audit report of BARC confirms that the organisation’s former executives did manipulate the TRPs.  The audit was performed reportedly after the new management took over in January this year, following complaints from the whistleblower. It shows that from May 2017 to November 2019, TRPs of English and Telugu news channels too had been tampered with. The number one news channel at that time, thereafter, was pushed to the second spot. Forensic auditors appointed by BARC concluded that the manipulation was deliberate and pre-decided. Three methods – outlier, meta-rules, and channel audience control – were reportedly used to fudge the TRP for the accused channel.

BARC is an industry body founded in 2010 by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) which holds a 60% stake in the TV measuring body while the remaining 40% share is divided equally between the other two bodies- Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA).

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