Shailesh Kapoor | TV Ratings: Take It Easy, TRAI. Come Soon, BARC

10 Jan,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


The words that best describe the TV ratings scenario in India over the last year are confusion and uncertainty. TAM has been under constant attack, for mostly right and some wrong reasons, for the last two years in particular. BARC has been moving ahead at good pace to bring in a neutral, more robust ratings measurement system in India, which we hope sees the light of the day before 2014 ends.


With BARC round the corner, TAM is virtually on a time bomb, in the last leg of what has been a rollercoaster ride of almost two decades. Trust TRAI to add to the confusion. The regulatory body has come out with guidelines for ratings agencies in India, to ensure fair and accurate measurement.


You can’t fault the intent behind most of the TRAI guidelines. They seem designed to address the concerns of broadcasters and advertisers in all earnestness. But wasn’t BARC created towards exactly the same purpose? Surely, TRAI should be aware of what BARC is hoping to achieve and how the progress is going. The guidelines, while well-intended, have a “meddling” feel to them, which I fear may slow down BARC’s progress.


Take the point on sample size for instance. TRAI guidelines say that the minimum panel size should 20,000, and should be increased by 10,000 every year till it reaches a figure of 50,000. Correct as this may sound, this guideline challenges the idea of a free market, where the panel size would be an outcome of what the stakeholders are willing to pay for the service. Will TRAI subsidize the balance panel if the industry is willing to pay only for 30,000-40,000?


Then there are some micro-level points that TRAI could have easily stayed away from, such as defining the panel rotation rate at 25% per annum. If they were indeed stepping into the domain of research design, they would much rather have put down the most glaring gap that exists as of now, whereby error margins are not reported or published.


There is a guideline that suggests that I&B ministry and TRAI can audit the systems of a ratings agency at any point of time. I don’t need to spell out how this can fast turn into a bureaucratic tangle, and encourage corruption.


Another vaguely-worded guideline says ratings should be “technology neutral”, in that they should be able to address delivery platforms like cable, DTH, terrestrial etc. Never before has an “etc” interested me so much. Does it include Internet, mobiles and DVRs? If yes, we are in for a challenge for another degree altogether.


The “toll free number for complaint redressal” is the comic relief in the guidelines. Imagine a Thursday morning when your show opens below your expectations and you get a research executive to call the toll free number to “complain”. That’s a phone call I’d love to hear!


Dear TRAI, take it easy. TV Ratings is a private affair after all, and the market will find its answers.


Dear BARC, come soon now. And till you come, keep the announcements going. There is a whole industry waiting with bated breath.


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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