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- Introduction to the issue
- What is TRP system?
- Past example of TRP controversy
- How the TRP system works and how it can be rigged?
- Why the government should not regulate Media?
- Way forward
In the case, where three channels Republic TV, Fakht Marathi and Box Cinema, have been named in the case of Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation, Days after Mumbai Police investigations, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) has announced the suspension of audience estimates and ratings for news channels for the next three months.
The order would cover all Hindi, regional and English news and business news channels with immediate effect.
What is TRP system?
- TRPs represent how many people, from which socio-economic categories, watched which channels for how much time during a particular period.
- TRPs are the main currency for advertisers to decide which channel to advertise on by calculating the cost-per-rating-point (CPRP).
Past example of TRP controversy
- In 2000s, there were two rating agencies Television Audience Measurement (TAM) and INTAM in India providing data for TRPs. There were major mismatch and disputes in the data provided by both agencies.
- TAM bought over the INTAM in 2001, leading to cartelisation in the TRP system, killing any possibility of scrutiny of the figures provided by TAM.
- As a result, despite having 35 out of the top 50 programmes in all TV homes, none of the Door darshan channels was present in the top 50 slots in the C&S (Cable & Satellite) homes category, as per the data of TAM.
- In another such controversy, a news channel with just 4 per cent prime time news was declared as number 1(“sab se Tez”) by TAM instead of DD National with 92 per cent share in prime-time news.
- Data was collected on the basis of 2,000 “BAR-O-meters” installed one each in a house, on the back cover of the TVs.
- The controversy was raised in the parliament in 2008. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) to frame policy guidelines for rating agencies.
- TRAI recommended for self-regulation through an industry-led body, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Thus, BARC came into existence.
- In Jan. 2014, MIB notified Policy Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies and in 2015 BARC was accredited to television ratings in India. In 2016, TAM exited TV viewership measurement, not BARC is the sole TV rating service provider.
How the TRP system works and how it can be rigged?
- At present, BARC provides a rating based on the installed “BAR-O-meters” in over 45,000 empanelled households.
- Based on the education level of the main wage earner and the ownership of consumer durables, households are classified into 12 categories.
- Every person in the household has a separate ID, each member registers their presence by pressing their viewer ID button. It provides data on the channel watched by a person and watch the duration of it.
- Now, if a broadcaster has the information of the houses where “BAR-O-meters” are installed, it would be easy for them to manipulate this data by bribing them or the cable operator of the multiple households for keeping their channel switched on.
Why it matters?
- Financial fraud: Distribution of Ads worth Rs. 27000 crores received by News industry is decided based on TRP.
- Spreading hate narrative: Programs spreading hate have been shown getting high TRP, affects public perception and promoted by channels, whereas a program spreading harmony and receiving low TRP will be demoted by channels. This system works against the national interest of any country.
- Investment: Channels receiving high TRP, even though it is rigged, have a high probability of receiving investment.
- Right to know: The manipulation does not involve just financial fraud, but a bigger crime of fraud on the people’s right to know the truth, which the media is morally and legally bound to provide, instead of fake news and manufactured hate narratives.
As per TRAI, one of the biggest challenges has been the absence of any specific law through which the agents/ suspects involved in panel tampering/infiltration could be penalised”
45000 households representing a population of billion + country is not sufficient.
Rating mindset: Rating system in India as a whole is not transparent. There is no clear information on the ratings provided to even books, music and movies.
Ad revenues are driving the news channels. Ads are being offered to the news channels having viewership from the audience having high purchasing power. Which is why English news channels are getting ads more.
No information about people meter, the methodology of calculations, sampling quality or demography of the selected sample size.
People meters are installed in the houses of poor, who can easily be lured by gifts or a small amount of money.
Why the government should not regulate Media?
- Media, in its original form, plays a role of adversary to the government, highlighting the social, economical or geographical issues and present challenges to the government.
- Government regulations mean surrendering freedom of expression and danger of political exploitation of media. TRAI is already doing the job of regulations, creating one more such agency would create confusion only.
- Multiple agencies: Creation of multiple agencies mean multiple data. Any mismatch in data will invite scrutiny, thus, data comparison will keep a check on every agency.
- Use of DTH services to analyse: Direct to Home (DTH) television services are being by huge population in India, DTH can be tweaked to provide information on which channel is being actually watched. Privacy issues due to that can be tackled through encryption.
- Use of new methodologies: Changing technology must be utilised. For example, after New tariff Order (NTO) by TRAI, users have an option to select channels, this method can easily provide info on, which channel is getting subscribed most by the public.
- Corporate led check: Recent Example of some corporates boycotting few media channels from their ads due to spread of hate is a great example that might be most effective in containing it.
- Corporate led technology: Corporates providing ads to news channels are very much capable of finding a technological solution, so that their ad expenses provide them most return.