TRP scam: BARC in cleanup mode, says no news viewership data for 3 months

News channels in India will not receive viewership data for the next three months with the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) deciding to review its viewership measurement mechanism. The move follows the Mumbai Police announcement that it has busted a television rating points racket. 

BARC, said informed sources, is contemplating key changes in its measurement system as advertisers, agencies and broadcasters demand a stringent and robust mechanism to tackle data manipulation — a problem that has dogged the viewership measurement industry for years.

Possible changes will include increasing the number of panel homes from 44,000 to 50,000 and the introduction of multiple checks to reduce tampering of data. In a statement, BARC India’s Chief Executive Officer Sunil Lulla said the body was actively exploring options to discourage inducement of panel home viewers. “We are further strengthening our code of conduct to address viewership malpractice besides augmenting current protocols,” he said.

Republic TV along with two other channels, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, were named by the Mumbai Police last week in connection with the viewership racket. Republic TV has contested the claims, and has approached the Supreme Court of India in the matter. On Thursday, the apex court asked Republic TV to seek relief from the Bombay High Court.

Media planners and buyers say that this is the best time for BARC to plug loopholes and restore credibility in its viewership system, which is considered the largest in the world.

“Festive season advertising decisions will not be impacted, since viewership data of general interest and sports channels have not been halted,” Sajal Gupta, vice-president, media buying, digital, at Zenith, a national media agency, said. “BARC can address some of the key issues that have been bogging its viewership measurement system, one of them being the need for a larger sample size.”

The need for a complete overhaul also comes in the absence of an alternative system to measure television viewership in the country, a point both brand experts and companies have raised. 

“I am of the view that there should be multiple currencies in viewership measurement. The advertiser will then at least have options available to him or her when making crucial advertising decisions,” N Chandramouli, chief executive officer of brand insights firm TRA Research, said. “And discrepancies, if any, will show up with two or more currencies. Risk is also hedged with multiple viewership systems, though there is a cost involved with running them.”

In the past, the television industry had two viewership currencies called TAM and INTAM. The latter was merged into TAM, which was subsequently folded to make way for BARC, an industry body, to measure the viewing habits of people.

Media experts said that the news genre has become particularly challenging for BARC in recent years, owing to the cut-throat competition that prevails among these channels. While the share of viewership of the news genre in total viewership is only 5 per cent, their share of advertising is double that, at 10 per cent.

In recent weeks, advertisers have come out against excessive toxicity and hate content on news channels that is aimed at garnering attention. Companies such as Bajaj Auto, Dollar and Amul have emphasisd the need for restraint and to put a stop to hate mongering.

On Thursday, Rajat Sharma, president, National Broadcasters Association, a body of news channels, said that this period when BARC data is suspended should be utilised to implement key reforms of the viewership system.

“To safeguard the integrity of viewership data, human intervention in collection and processing of information should be eliminated. Data security must be ensured at all levels and complaints should be dealt with in an independent and transparent manner,” Sharma said.

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