BARC must be transparent, address allegation of tempering: TRAI chairman

Says neutrality of ratings systems a must

GN Bureau | August 22, 2020


#TRAI   #broadcasting   #TV   #Media   #BARC   #R. S. Sharma  


Broadcasting as a sector is largely dependent on advertising revenue for survival and growth. Out of overall broadcasters’ revenue of Rs 45,000 crore in 2019, Rs 32,000 crore was collected from advertising revenues. This underlines the dependence of the industry on the flow of advertising revenue which hinges largely on the audience profile and popularly of content, which is assessed by the Television Audience Measurement (TAM) rating system.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma has taken note of the concerns raised by the stakeholders regarding the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) in terms of its structure, neutrality and reliability of existing rating system, and said that this has necessitated the value of existing TAM and TRP in India.

“It is imperative that TAM and TRP should be objective, fair, neutral and transparent. For the same reason both these processes engage continued attention from the sector regulators leading to periodical reviews and reforms,” said Sharma, adding that issues of panel expansion and panel tampering have been raised and require immediate attention as these can cause harm to stability of TAM and television ratings.

Watch the video:



Sharma was talking with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, in a live webinar as part of the Visionary Talks series.

For the video of this and other episodes of the Visionary Talks series, see here: http://www.governancenow.com/visionary-talks-series
 
“With advancement in technology, rapid changes have given rise to new issues along with new avenues to explore, update and improve credibility of the TAM system. Several concerns on neutrality and reliability of the existing rating system have been raised by the stakeholders, which necessitated a review of the existing TAM rating system in India. After a due consultation process, the TRAI forwarded the recommendation of review of TAM to the MIB [ministry of information and broadcasting] on April 20, 2020,” said Sharma.    

Some other important recommendations of the TRAI include the need of structural reforms in BARC to mitigate conflict of interest, bring credibility, transparency and instill confidence among all stakeholders in the TV audience measurement rating system, to create credible and accurate collection of data and encourage multiple data collection agencies. The competition between these multiple data collection  and processing agencies would bring in new technologies, research, methodologies and methods of  analysis  and better ways to ensure  data quality.

Adding that it was on the TRAI’s recommendations that the BARC was constituted and is the sole provider of TV rating services on a commercial basis, Sharma said that BARC should review and frame its outlier policy based on scientific study and market survey conducted from time to time. He also said that BARC should automate data processing in such a manner that no manual intervention is required before release of the final TRP.

“We don’t know the basis why outliers are rejected as has been reported. Any type of manual intervention in available methods, raw data arising out of household panel must be avoided. Manual intervention in abnormal circumstances should be reported and informed to audience also.” He also said that BARC must set up a portal for redressal of stakeholders’ grievances.

Sharma said that in the era of artificial intelligence introduction of rating companies could bring in new and innovative methodologies so as to shift from simple model to sensors-based model. He called for a system of interoperable set-top boxes with an inherent mechanism of recording technical data to agencies like BARC in a sensors-driven situation without any error whatsoever. “One can have a granular data of a single individual without burdening their privacy. We have to move with times and because audience rating and measurement is so critical we need to carry out these reforms in the audience measurement ratings.”  

The regulatory authority chairman added that India’s young software engineers have come out with some wonderful ideas to improve audience measurement systems without any investment. He also said that there are many conflict-of-interest issues in the governance structure which the authority has pointed out and so one has to understand the issue in totality before coming out with decisions.

While responding to a question on the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) statement raising the concern that amendments in the NTO 1.0 and NTO 2.0 will severely impact ability of broadcasters to compete with other unregulated platforms and adversely impact viability of pay TV industry and where it also says that many channels have had to close down resulting in job losses, Sharma rubbished the claims and said the statement is only intended to bring fear in the minds of people.

“TRAI has taken the right steps in the interests of the audience and the industry, and no one should be compelled to watch channels they don’t want to see. Our own data points out that 90% of the people watch only about 50 channels out of the 800-900 channels in the country,” he said, adding that as compared to television, the OTT platform allows much more freedom to watch content and that is one of the reasons for audience shifting away to OTT platforms.

While refraining to comment on the issue further as the matter is sub-judice, Sharma however said, “…it cannot be attributed to provisions of the NTO 2.0 or NTO1.0 which is not against the interests of the industry or unreasonable. The TRAI has taken right steps in the interests of the audience and industry. What right do you have? You have approached the court. There is a rule of law and regulation. The honourable court will decide on the issue. Are you fighting the battle of legality or of perception of public? This is not fair. There is a law which can be challenged at an appropriate forum and that challenge has been done. We should wait for the decision of the honourable court and accordingly go about it. Creating baseless, unmindful fears in the minds of people does not serve any purpose,” Sharma said.
 

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