Why is TRAI getting into television measurement?

Broadcast industry insiders believe that the government should not interfere in TV measurement and have questioned the 'urgency' in issuing the recommendations

e4m by Srabana Lahiri
Updated: May 7, 2020 1:08 PM
TV

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s recent recommendation on a major overhaul in the governance structure and operational framework of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, the joint-industry body for TV audience measurement, comes as a shocker for the beleaguered broadcast industry, media agencies and marketers who have been relying on BARC for TV rating services since 2015. TRAI believes there is a need for the development of multiple data collection and rating agencies and once that happens, BARC India should limit its role to publishing the TV ratings, framing methodology and audit mechanism for the rating agencies.

Besides, TRAI wants to raise the number of people meters from 44,000 to 66,000 by the end of 2020 and 1,00,000 by the end of 2022. “Apart from the cost implication, you cannot have multiple currencies, you can’t have rupee and dollar in the same country. Some rookie may have put together the TRAI document without understanding how the industry works. In a way, this is the beginning of the killing of BARC. There are people who love to find loopholes in the system, basically, these are the people who would tamper with meters and do all kinds of illegitimate things; therefore they do not want a strong scientific system,” says a senior industry professional who does not wish to be named. The same person pointed out several loopholes in the TRAI document – for instance, the mention of “multiple data collection agencies”, implying that data is physically collected from people meters.

WHY AT THIS TIME?

Other sources in the broadcast industry also say they suspect vested interest of a few stakeholders behind this move at this critical time for the economy overall and media industry, in particular, reeling under the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. On condition of anonymity, an industry expert questioned the ‘urgency’ in issuing the recommendations. “In 2018, TRAI issued a consultation paper seeking comments of stakeholders on issues related to review of the existing system. What was the urgency for TRAI in choosing a time when BARC is set to complete five years? BARC was a project which took a long time to come into execution. The process of creating a joint industry body started in 2006 and ended in 2015, a decade has been invested,” the expert said.

BARC India is promoted by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), based on a 60:20:20 formula (IBF 60%, ISA 20%, AAAI 20%). It was seen to be the solution to the alleged shortcomings - such as data integrity, data inaccuracy and monopoly - of TAM Media Research (TAM), the agency providing TV audience measurement before BARC came into existence. Almost a decade and heavy investment went into planning and setting up BARC, and hypothetically, to repeat that exercise would spell disaster for the industry. Over the last five years, the television industry also suffered enough disruption at the onset of digitization of cable television in the country, the transition from TAM to BARC and the new tariff order (NTO), and would not welcome another upheaval in the system if it can help it.

TIME, COST, MANPOWER

Reportedly, large networks end up paying around Rs 40-50 crore annually to BARC for the ratings. Of course, not all benefit out of the ratings, hence this payment is also questioned by broadcasters many a time. However, the key point is that to attract advertising, any industry needs a currency for measurement. BARC, launched in April 2015, as an independent joint industry body formed by broadcasters, advertisers and agencies, took time in its adoption too. But broadcasters adapted to the new software pretty quickly and followed by media agencies and marketers who are now used to the new software. An overhauling of this, in case the TRAI recommendations actually go forward, will not only involve huge cost and time but also take a toll on trained manpower and systems set up with much effort by the stakeholders.

“BARC ratings are used as a trading currency in the broadcast domain… someone is selling TV time, and someone is buying TV time. It is a commercial thing. What’s the Government's role in this? Who are they to tell us… that we should have one lakh meters or two lakh meters… How does TRAI come to the conclusion about a finite number? Do they have data to back that? Why recommend 1 lakh – we can say 10 lakh is better than 1 lakh! Besides, who will do the funding for that? I would urge the Government to please fund it, else refrain from advising us if they are not funding. It’s our money, so why should we spend on their recommendation?” asks a senior broadcaster.

WHY GOVT INTERFERENCE?

TRAI’s recent recommendations come on the basis of the open house interactions it organises from time to time. The stakeholders reply to the consultation papers, from where the authority picks up its actions without considering their far- fetched implications. The industry feels that the Government should not interfere with this at all. “Print measurement is run independently. Digital measurement is not in their purview. Why is TRAI getting into television measurement? Even if they claim that they were referred to by the MIB, why is the Government getting into only TV measurement?” asks a senior broadcaster who does not wish to be named.

WILL MIB RATIFY IT?

Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar assured IBF office-bearers in a virtual meeting held on May 1 that the Government will take all steps to help the media and entertainment industry. When IBF functionaries raised the issue related to TRAI’s recommendations for BARC with the minister, he said his Ministry is looking into it very seriously and will see how both their concerns can be addressed.

But with Amit Khare recently returning as Secretary, Information and Broadcasting Ministry, some have voiced concerns that TRAI’s recommendations now have more chances of actually moving ahead. Even if 50% of the recommendations are accepted by the MIB, it will be a tough call for the industry, say, insiders. There was a huge show of solidarity by broadcasters in January this year when every top broadcaster came together on one stage to rally against TRAI’s fresh tariff regulations, that the regulator claimed to be a ‘fine-tuning’ of its New Tariff Order (NTO), implemented barely a year earlier. It remains to be seen what path the TRAI recommendations take, whether it goes to court, and then what happens. Also how much energy the IBF will put into fighting this as they are already waging the NTO battle with TRAI. For now, no one’s commenting.

Adding his voice to the discussion, Karan Taurani, VP- Research, Elara Capital said, “Given all the mediums – TV, Radio, Print, Cinema and OOH, TV has the best measurement system, and Digital still not able to develop one. BARC is the best rating mechanism. I think it can sail away from these tough times.”

Partho Dasgupta, Former CEO, BARC said, “On the operational front, the recommendations should have taken a much closer look at ground realities and not paid heed to just what some uninformed stakeholders would say. For example, BARC does enough number of audits - both by international and domestic experts - to ensure that processes are followed properly. These are also reported on the public website. I have not understood how an arm’s length distance will work with MDL (the field management company) when the meter technology is developed and maintained by BARC, as also the sample design and measurement sciences. Getting three companies involved, putting 100,000 meters - does the economics support it? Broadcasters who pay the bulk of revenues to BARC already complain about what they are paying. How will increased expenses be funded? Also why around the world there is only one rating company in a country and not multiple - someone should evaluate.” 

(With inputs from Dipali Banka and Sonam Saini)

(This story was carried by Impact)

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