Our earlier article had exposed how the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I & B) during the fag end of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA-2) Government in January 2014 manipulated the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommendation to favour the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) and get foreign firms to enter it. BARC, the premier television rating agency is not an independent agency but a club of power players in the Television industry itself due to the tweaking of policy by the previous Congress regime. Because of this, massive data collected from television viewing homes in India has gone into the hands of foreign players, who are not accountable to the Indian government.
The question is how with a 30,000 machine (if this claim is true) sampling, the television viewing pattern of more than 50 to 60 crore television watchers across India with various languages and cultures can be ascertained.
The shareholding pattern of BARC clearly shows that the BARC’s major controllers are the multinational media giant Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV and UK based advertising, healthcare, and lobbying firm Wire and Plastic Products (WPP). According to the claim by BARC, they are having monitoring or installation of monitoring meters of television viewing pattern at around 30,000 homes. By the collection of data from these machines (Purple Meters) installed in 30,000 homes data of viewership is derived and weekly TRP (Television Rating Points) are allotted to each channel and programmes, claim BARC data preparing staffers, who don’t want to explain much about their trade secrets. In contrast, the Nielsen ratings, which rates the viewing habits of Americans, has about 2 million paper diaries (essentially for about 4 months for an average of 500,000 per month) to determine the viewing habits of audiences in America.
It is an open secret that malpractices exist in the field to get good TRPs. TRP ratings of certain programmes and certain channels gave the impression that some sort of hyping was happening in the ratings. In the industry, there are always allegations that companies producing Mega-serials will go to any extent to get good TRPs and use clever ways to hype up the TRP numbers. Many TV Channel owners came out in public about inflated ratings happening in BARC and in the earlier TAM Ratings (by TAM Media Research).
The question is how with a 30,000 machine (if this claim is true) sampling, the television viewing pattern of more than 50 to 60 crore television watchers across India with various languages and cultures can be ascertained. Another question is why foreign agencies are entertained in this domestic data analysis project. It is apparent that I&B Ministry during the fag end of UPA-2 tenure tweaked the policy to suit multinational companies. Will Manish Tewari answer why Ministry under him juxtaposed (his go-to word) this dubious decision by allowing BARC, a mainly Star TV controlled body for television rating? Obviously, these dubious decisions must have benefitted someone monetarily. Otherwise, why has the Ministry exempted BARC from all crucial government norms by allowing TV channels to form a rating agency and allowing foreign players? It is high time the Government probe why this crucial data is being exported.
We are already seeing the controversies related to data theft and leakages by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and the outcome.
Given the above circumstances, the Government and TRAI must intervene to rectify the tweaked “Policy Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies in India” of January 2014 to create independent agencies for television ratings. There should be more than two agencies in this field to ensure curbing of monopoly by BARC, which actually arm twists the Indian television industry.