Stakeholders can ask BARC Board for change of policies: Partho Dasgupta

29 May,2017

 

When the industry chose Partho Dasgupta to head BARC or Broadcast Audience Research Council, they obviously knew that while Dasgupta realises that BARC is a joint industry body and like any such grouping, it has many masters, egos and all that goes with it, he’s not one to get bullied easily.To his credit, Dasgupta, joint recipient of the MxMIndia Mediaperson of the Year Award 2015, has stuck his ground on issues that merit the need to stand up to the biggest (and often most feared) names in the business.

 

And this is how the BARC top brass reacted to the offensive from the News Broadcasters Association and its constituent English news channel members (except WION) on the evening of May 28. The channels took the extreme step of removing their watermarking as a mark of protest against BARC, only to return with watermarking at around 12am on Saturday, May 27.

 

Given that it’s a sensitive issue and possibly best forgotten now that the channels are back, we thought Dasgupta would duck our request for an interview, and have us chase the elected/appointed officebearers. Instead he took the questions from Pradyuman Maheshwari head-on. Read on…

 

It’s heartening to note that the English news channels have returned to the BARC fold by watermarking their channels. Your thoughts on the episode. Actually more than thoughts, your sentiments – when you heard of it first and now?And who do you think won? You (as in BARC)? The English news channels? Or would you say the industry lost?

This is not about winning or losing. BARC stood by its principles of being unbiased and transparent. BARC was formed by the industry to measure ‘What India Watches’ and we continue to do so.

 

What the news channels have done by undertaking this one-week-one-day pull-out doesn’t augur too well for the entire ecosystem as a whole. What if another channel does it in future – equally aggrieved, etc.? The English news channel – under the patronage of the NBA – have, sadly, shown the way.

Content is the king and good content is always appreciated by viewers. BARC India only measures ‘What India Watches’. We do not have control on who is watching what and neither can we change that. If viewers decide to watch a particular channel in a week and the viewership spikes, we cannot start questioning it. It is for the industry to handle it in a mature and professional way.

Frankly, our stand on measuring channels doesn’t change with turn of events. We are guided by TRAI and MIB guidelines and any policy that we put in place has sign off from all our stakeholders and Board. I believe questions with regards to our data can be resolved through discussions based on logic and fact, and faith in the system which all the broadcasters are a part of.

 

There is a sentiment that the standpoint of BARC has been very black-and-white. That despite seeing rampant abuse of distribution practices, BARC has turned a blind eye to the malaise. And while earlier it was only individual channels that may have objected, here the apex association of news broadcasters made an earnest request, ahead of the release of the data. Also, while there exists a clear clause on your site on the issue of multiple LCNs which we have seen, couldn’t you have been a little more accommodative?

I would want to reiterate our statement: we only measure TV viewership, irrespective of the platform or the number of instances it is available on. We are a joint industry company and not a regulatory body. Even the Delhi High Court has clearly said that the matter is between the broadcaster, MSOs and TRAI to resolve. TRAI has been investigating this much before the court case came up. We should have faith in the regulator.

There was full faith in the numbers for the last two years and people were using it to market and sell; suddenly when the landscape changes due to new entrant, one blames the same system?

We know that a lot of FMCG brands take up more than one shelf to promote a certain product. What do you do then? Hold up the supermarket for allowing them to take that space? How is this any different? If a broadcaster decides to take up more than one slot to improve the opportunity to see, it is absolutely their call. We have measured and reported data for channels basis watermark code and the viewership recorded and this time was no different. The stakeholders can always approach the BARC Board for any change of policies they may suggest.

Saying that we turn a blind eye is absolutely wrong. If you remember, we were the ones who had stopped releasing data of channels we found were involved in meter tampering. We were questioned even then. It seems like “Shoot the Messenger” has become easiest way to resolve an issue these days. BARC India was set up to give the industry the data that is robust and we are doing that and will continue doing that.

 

We have seen in the case of Republic TV as well as several times in the past channels disobeying the BARC guidelines on advertising data. Now by the time ASCI, the advertising self-regulator, is able to issue a diktat, the channel would’ve done its job making a claim that works against the BARC guideline.

My first question: Is it a guideline or a directive. As in does breaking of the guideline amount to the act of advertising an improper message mean it is an offence? And second, while it’s not BARC’s job to police channels, but since it is a contravention of BARC guidelines, shouldn’t there be a provision for a penalty?

Again, as I said earlier, we are not a regulator. We have issued a guideline and it is for broadcasters to self-regulate. If they don’t, there is a body that can regulate them. In this case, ASCI. The fact that we have come out with a guideline is in itself a proof that we do not favour such marketing campaigns.

And let’s face it, before it comes to BARC or ASCI, broadcast channels should have their own methods. They should self-regulate within and arrive at a consensual approach. If they agree on and adhere to their own bounds; BARC, ASCI, TRAI, courts etc. need not come into the picture at all.

 

It is clearly mentioned in your terms with the subscribers – specifically broadcasters – that pulling out the watermarking could lead to the suspension of data from a login for six to eight months. Will you be now doing that with the channels which have pulled out – for the channel itself and for others in the network using the same login id? And why not? Wouldn’t this mean that channels unhappy with BARC data in the future for whatever reason could do the same? Wouldn’t it have been good to have shown the stick to the broadcasters who pulled out? Or at least been tough with them? Or are you now planning to remove the clause?

We believe in talking first than in taking recourse to legal action. But if necessary we won’t shy away.

 

We’ve seen a similar sentiment being expressed by a few media entities with the IRS for print some years back. And we are seeing a similar outburst now from broadcasters who weren’t happy with data. I am sure the pressures over the last week-odd would’ve been major on you and the team. Would you say this is part of the game… just as if you’re in the kitchen, you have to face the heat, in an audience measurement firm, one has to be ready to face disgruntled, angry and sometimes unruly subscribers?

(laughs) Yes, it has been pretty rough for all of us. We knew we were right, it was all about making people understand that. We first did that in the Delhi High Court and then to news broadcasters. It is sad that you are pulled up for doing your job right. But as you said, it is about facing the heat being in the measurement business.

 

Often, when one loses a match, the pitch or the umpire is blamed, right?

(laughs) No comments

 

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