Mera Gaon, Mera Desh! Interview with BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta

26 Oct,2015

 

When we last met him, Partho Dasgupta was seen on the wheels of a pretty BMW.  A few months back, the Board of joint industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) issued a go-ahead for work on the measuring of rural television audiences. But some we heard got the heebie-jeebies when the day dawned and the data was ready to be loaded on the BMW, short for BARC Media Workstation. It was for the first time since television entered the country in 1959 that a composite audience measurement system for rural and urban India had happened. The BARC CEO loves driving his BMW, but we are certain that it’s the coincidentally abbreviated software dashboard that he enjoys navigating more and offers him greater satisfaction. The weekly urban+rural data, says BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta in an interview with Pradyuman Maheshwari, will offer an optimum indicator of what the country is watching on television. Read on…

 

With the data released on Friday, are we now looking at a true measure of what the country is watching, in terms of viewer patterns, markets based on languages spoken and such?

Yes. Finally we are seeing what India watches across the length and breadth of the country. This includes all kinds of languages spoken and all kinds of geographies, from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari; from Itanagar to Gujarat. This means 77.5 million urban households and about 76 million rural households — that’s the kind of dispersion Indian TV has.

 

Across the country, in J&K, in the border areas where people have problems with the terrain and law-and-order?

Absolutely. We also had problems. We are all over the country and even in J&K, Arunachal Pradesh and everywhere.

 

A major part of rural India doesn’t have electricity. And since your meters depend on electricity, how did you manage?

TV depends on electricity, forget about the meters. Everyone watches TV when only you have electricity, and not just in rural India. We’ve seen electricity problems even in Bengaluru, in the last few weeks. The ratings go up and down based on this, so that is a problem, and it has a telling effect on the time spent on rural watching. That’s reflected in the data too.

 

The industry still remembers the volatility brought in by digitisation and the introduction of LC1  a couple of years ago. Apparently there were murmurs about some channels wanting a delay in the release of the rural current ratings, given that we are just getting used to the primary BARC ratings. Are we certain of a stable measurement system?

The issues are real. If you want to brush them under the carpet, you can do that. Fact is that when there is a power cut in Bengaluru, people watch less TV. If floods or rains cause power cuts, people watch less TV. These things affect the numbers. If the system is very stable, then I would say something is wrong. Do you spend all your evenings in the same way, watching the same things, doing the same things? You don’t, right? So how can you expect every day, every week, every year of every person to be exactly the same? There are variances, and we show that. By now, most of our stakeholders understand when they see interventions reflected in the ratings. [If there are no variances then] you are doing something dishonest.

 

What you are saying is that the system is robust, but there will always be some instability because people watch different things every week…

There are external stimulus. If you make changes in the storyline, it should show up. That’s why you are changing the storyline. If there are major news events, it should reflect in the ratings. If there are elections in Bihar, and the Bihar numbers don’t go up, there is something terribly wrong. Why would you call it instability? We call it fidelity.

 

Are channel heads convinced about it?

Yeah, absolutely. Obviously there’ll always be some minority who are yet to understand the realities of life. But, most people have understood and they’ve all accepted and rather welcomed it.

 

For the broadcast economy and its stakeholders (broadcasters, programmers and advertisers), do you see a significant impact in terms for viewership, advertising, content etc? For instance, primetime in an urban centre may be bedtime for people in the rural areas. How does this impact content?

You are right, in a way. Rural India wakes up and sleeps earlier than urban India, but it’s just a difference of an hour or so perhaps. In another way, you could say you have two primetimes – an earlier one for the hinterland, and a later one for urban areas. So from the broadcast point of view, you are capturing more people and more opportunities.

 

It means more expenses for broadcasters. If you look at the bigger thrust of programming, you must consider the rural sector…

Yes, but at the same time you are actually catering to so many different audiences that this could translate into a price advantage. Especially with advertisers. There are a lot of advertisers who make bigger gains on their sachets [sold in the rural areas] than on their urban packs.

 

What are the significant things that the data shows?

There are quite a few. For example, we always thought English news is for the metros, but about 52 per cent of English news is watched beyond the metro markets, and 45 per cent of English entertainment is consumed by people may find it hard to believe but that’s the fact. Many of my friends who’ve done work in the rural markets and done dipsticks there, tell me the same thing. It is a rapidly-changing rural India, and we could not capture this in many of our earlier paradigms.

 

Is there a lesson in the numbers and the trends they point to?

Yes, you should see how distribution makes a huge difference. Different modes of distribution. I will not go into the details, but the numbers will make life different for a lot of channels.

 

How much do you think will this impact India’s rural economy?

The accountability part of the money being spent on advertising for the rural markets, will itself change. If you know that you can address a large audience, people will. I have friends who are doing a lot of rural activations right now, and they can see that there is something changing. Now with the numbers coming in, we [have proof of this].

 

It’s just been two years since you set up operations, and you’ve released the rural numbers just five months since when you launched this project in April. You have the merger of the TAM meters coming up. What’s next from BARC?

I think something quite near on the horizon is that we are looking at split beams. Many of the broadcasters are now doing the local split beams, so how do you measure that? The TAM meters merger is also fairly high on the agenda. The next thing you can look forward to is a 10,000 increase every year in panel sizes. And digital measurement of multiple screens, which means mobiles, laptops, all the OTTs, YouTube etc. Apart from the fact we are coming up with a new Broadcast India survey, which is underway in the field. We should see it early next year, and the results will also tell you what the larger or macro numbers look like.

 

A slightly shorter version of this appeared in dna of brands of today (October 10), and a part of this interview appeared in the show BrandStand on Zee Business over the last weekend. Watch it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSosY-LBpu4

 

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