BARC represents the marketing, advertising economy, says CEO Sunil Lulla

Topics BARC | TRAI  | TV viewership

BARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sunil Lulla
It is exactly five years since the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) became operational. It was born as a result of an unhappy industry and several Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) interventions that finally led to the closure of Tam Media Research, the erstwhile ratings body. BARC has done a commendable job of building the world’s largest audience measurement system in one of its most fragmented markets. Vanita Kohli-Khandekar spoke to BARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sunil Lulla on what the five years mean even as Trai released yet another paper recommending more structural changes at BARC. Edited excerpts:

What are the major achievements of BARC in its first five years?

One, it has created a transparent measurement system which is external facing and answers every question. There is a vigilance system and everything is documented and reported.

The sample is bigger, better and driven by TV growth. We have brought scale to audience measurement (when BARC came into TV audience, measurement was based on a sample of about 40,000 people. Now, it is about 200,000). Remember, I was on the founding board of BARC, so I have been through all of this.

There is always conflict among the shareholders of BARC – broadcasters, agencies and advertisers. How do you resolve this?

To me, the earlier system was very involved with broadcasters. We need to evolve to ‘What is the currency?”. The currency is the Rs 32,000 crore spent on TV advertising. Just like there is Nifty or BSE Index, BARC must be at the same level. It must be able to drive and grow the advertising economy. Marketing creation and driving demand (through advertising) drives the GDP.

That is the prism through which one has to look at this business, not as a content driver. The currency is about the money it fuels. And, as digital grows, the currency will grow. I represent the currency, am mindful of measuring it. That is the heart of business. Today, we have more broadcast clients than advertising ones. The advertisers take the data from their agency. I want to see them buying the data, then they will be more involved and the currency will get better.

The whole blended metric thing has been hanging fire for almost two years now… why is BARC not being able to put together digital and broadcast ratings?

If you look at the rise of viewership during the lockdown, TV and online are coming across as synonymous screens – TV is the screen of the household while digital is the screen of the individual. Our business is to find a way to measure both. One of the first things we have done during this lockdown is collaborated with Nielsen to present you both TV and smartphone viewing.

And, we will be doing that further with multiple partners. We are aligned with people in the industry and have full support of the board members on this. Maybe at times there is a conflict of interest, but everybody need not be a subscriber. We need to create something that is achievable and credible. We will build it to start in 2021.

Would Google, Netflix and others, with closed systems, be a part of it?

The earlier effort was to try and get everyone. But now, if someone doesn’t want to be a part of it, it is fine.

How would digital be a robust currency then?

We measure sample households and can explain viewership based on that. If only 9,000 of 10,000 households are covered, it is fine. Worldwide sampling continues to play a role.  No one has benefitted from a solo currency. When marketers want to compare, you need a neutral currency. We are neutral and we represent the marketing/advertising economy.

How important is it for BARC to get digital measurement going in the next five years?

Please understand the power of TV. It is not going anywhere. The huge growth in viewership during the lockdown shows that. Non-prime time has grown during lockdown. Digital will also continue to grow; the lockdown has given it acceleration. The next five years are about doing both digital and TV well, being the best in measurement science and having the best currency there is.

BARC is accused of being dominated by or having a prejudice for big broadcasters. Your comment.

We are a measurement company. The currency is the Rs 32,000 spent by clients. TAM and then BARC got created for television measurement. But we are not about TV but about the marketing and advertising economy. We have zero prejudices and biases.


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