Will TRAI's recommendations on BARC hit the media biz?

Apart from the complexities and implications of the recommendation, experts are questioning the timing and economic viability of the plan

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Apr 30, 2020 8:54 AM  | 4 min read

First there was NTO 2.0 and now there is a new recommendation to reconstruct BARC India. TRAI has been keeping broadcasters busy with one new proposal after the other in the name of credibility and transparency. Industry experts call this new recommendation a draconian move designed to cater to the interests of a limited few.

“I think 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 arms’ 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,” said an expert from the measuring body.

Even if the complexities and implications of the recommendation are kept aside, experts are questioning the timing and the economic viability of the plan.

“Service providers have been facing difficulty rolling out NTO 2.0 and in the midst of that, we have more to do. Is lockdown the best time to implement these recommendations? It is appalling that the regulatory body had no consideration about the situation we are all in,” said the marketing head of a popular news network.  

“Getting three companies involved, and having 100, 000 metres- do the economics support it?” said an expert. “Broadcasters who pay the bulk of revenues to BARC already complain about what they are paying. How will increased expenses be funded?” he added.

As it turns out large networks already pay as much as Rs 40 crore-Rs 50 crore annually. Whether they are ready to pay more is a big question given not all stakeholders gain from the ratings.

While TRAI claims the recommendations are in the favour of stakeholders in the industry, a huge chunk of the fraternity is in the dark about who these stakeholders are and if the recommendations are devised to serve their vested interests.

"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 1 lakh meters or 2 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!" commented a senior official in the broadcast industry.

"It is true BARC has shortcomings and scope of improvement. But that will come at a cost that at least in this year of unprecedented crisis where AdEx has gone down by 60 to 70% no one is willing to shell out. Having said that we as broadcasters in all our IBF meetings try to come up with suggestions and ways to fix problems. No one understands operational issues better than us," said a senior broadcaster

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%).

The recommendation highlights that few stakeholders were not satisfied with the current structure of the body. According to them, IBF controls day-to-day functioning and course of action of BARC India, and ISA and AAAI members are not involved with the overall measurement system of TRP currency. The current system is closed and controlled by those who have a direct stake in the outcomes and have a potential for conflict of interest.

TRAI's new recommendation suggests the composition of the Board of BARC India should be changed as part of the proposed structural reforms. Restructured Board of BARC India it says should provide for equal representation of the three constituent Industry associations.

Whose interest would the new composition structure serve is a big question the broadcasting fraternity is asking at the moment.

Broadcasters who depend heavily on BARC for ratings which are directly proportional to their ad rate bargains are happy with the present mechanism. “I think BARC is one of the best measurement mechanism we have in India. There are agencies, broadcasters, and people from the ecosystem involved in that and there is a trust in the data they provide. I don't see any problem in terms of structuring, or functioning,” said a GEC broadcaster.

While BARC is in the process of reviewing the recommendation, there are grey areas in the regulatory intervention waiting to be deciphered by the stakeholders.

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