Government, leave BARC alone!

05 Dec,2018


By Pradyuman Maheshwari

MxMIndia has been consistent on its position that the government mustn’t have a role in the television ratings process. And we were appalled when on Monday, the government-owned Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued a Consultation Paper of Review of Television Audience Measurement and Ratings in India.

While a review of how BARC is performing is good to do, did it require a TRAI to step in to do it? Couldn’t the joint owners of broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies have conducted this? After all they run businesses of over crores of rupees and are mostly fair in their decision-making. Mostly fair, because we’ve seen some regressive acts in the past like not stepping in to disallow news channels from opting out of watermarking and boycotting BARC one-and-a-half years back post the launch of Republic TV. It may be noted that the BARC Board – the meetings of which happen very regularly – is constituted of members of all stakeholders.

But back to our concern that the government shouldn’t be getting involved in measurement. Vested interests have evidently got onto the act and prevailed upon the government to do this.

MxMIndia has maintained in the past that part of the problem with TAM was a creation of the industry. Just how many times did the TAM technical committee meet to advise the joint industry-appointed measurement body on how it should conduct its measurement. Or what changes should it bring about. From what one remembers, the techcom advising TAM fizzled out a few after it was set up. Later, it was for the TAM management and the wise women and men in the industry to shape the measurement business. A not-so-little birdie in the techcom tells me that the government representative present on the techcom is conspicuous by his absence in most meetings. MxMIndia was unable to procure the attendance roster of Board and Techcom meetings to get an indicator of the participation levels of industry players.

In my limited understanding of the nuances of the business, I believe the industry – broadcasters, advertising and advertising/media agencies – have let down BARC miserably. And if they don’t step in and do what they ought to do, BARC could well be an exercise in futility. Television measurement could see the same fate as print. Or radio which after all these years still doesn’t have a 100% buy-in from all players or internet measurement which is so opaquely transparent. Or transparently opaque.

The genesis of the problem is the unity (or lack of it) amongst and within the three constituents. The Ravana in the Room is clearly the lot of news channels and some of the smaller, fringe players. Unfortunately, they have access to big and mighty in, as Arnab Goswami loves to term it, Lutyen’s Delhi. Now, Ravana, we all know, was a learned man. Except that his ways were, well, wicked.

It’s perhaps incorrect to give a Ravanesque hue to all news channels. Some of them are indeed progressive and think in the larger interests of the business. But, ask any one who knows the trade, the only reason why TRAI has got into the act is because of the pressure from news channels. News channel bosses are influential, and governments over the years are under pressure directly and from politicians to peruse issues which it shouldn’t waste its time on. Had BARC (and earlier TAM) not measured news channels, it would’ve been smooth sailing all through.

Among the various misgivings – perhaps not spelt out loud and clear – is that the community of smaller channels believe that BARC is only a body of the biggies. But then that’s something they must get their industry association to work upon. It may be good for BARC to proactively have a separate tech sub-committee for small and medium-sized channels, advertisers and ad agencies.

The contention which I hear has been expressed in some quarters that the BARC fees are very high is perhaps incorrect. At the lowest end, BARC fees are in the region of Rs 15 lakh plus GST. Which given the business they are in is fair money for data that could bring in 10x the amount.

In the days of TAM, one of the major misgivings was the number of panels in existence. In India, for a TV AdEx of 3,364 million, the panel size in terms of approximate individuals is 135,000. Contrast this with China where AdEx is 20,105mn and the panel individuals size is just 29,361 (source: EuroData Study 2017).

There is also a view that there must be more than one player measuring TV data. Competition is always good in any business. But it may be remembered that even aMap, when it existed as a counter to TAM not too long ago, had to shut shop because of lack of patronage. Will the various entities – broadcasters, advertisers and agencies – be willing to pay subscription fees to two measurement companies? My view is they won’t.

In sum, the government-appointed TRAI should not have any role in the television audience measurement. Just as it doesn’t have any role in print, radio and internet audience measurement. There is some bizarre view that the reason why the government is involved is because its ads buying arm – the DAVP – loses monies because of incorrect measurement. So what about print, which earns its largesse? The government is scared of the big print players and isn’t able to bully them the way they are able to control the TVwallahs.

The data that’s thrown up by measurement is used by advertisers (and hence ad agencies) to decide on advertising and by broadcasters to aid its content and distribution. And since successive governments are aware that the media ecosystem is divided and people love to pull down others, it’s taking advantage of the situation. Look at print: even though an HT may hate Times, a Dainik Bhaskar may take on Dainik Jagran or Rajasthan Patrika, all rivals are almost always on one page when it comes to warding off government influences.

The ecosystem is so divided that it will not even invest the monies to hire a lawyer like the Raja of PILs Prashant Bhushan to ask the government: Hum Aapke Hain Kaun!

By putting BARC on notice, TRAI will kill measurement. And the industry will allow it to be killed. Perhaps that’s what some want.



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