Indrani Sen: Will Ekam get a new lease of life in this New Year?

06 Jan,2020

By Indrani Sen

 

In 2016, television viewership measurement body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India announced plans to measure digital viewership and going beyond audience measurement of broadcast media. In April 2017, BARC launched its plan of providing the industry with a single platform for all measurement products, across TV and digital through “Ekam” in a phased roll-out over 18-24 months. Partho Dasgupta, then CEO of BARC India, detailed out the five products which were designed based on specific needs of the industry: Ekam Pulse, Ekam Beam, Ekam Stream, Ekam Ad-Scan and Ekam Integra.

To recap the memories of readers, Ekam Pulse, the first product to be rolled out, is for measuring video ad campaigns while Ekam Beam will be measuring linear broadcast that is viewed on a digital device and Ekam Stream will be measuring both non-linear and pure play digital video content. Ekam Ad-Scan, as its name suggests, will give an overview of digital ads in India from different perspectives and Ekam Integra will provide the industry with independent audience numbers enabling calculations of reach and frequency. BARC also announced that its TV data will be integrated with Digital Video data with the help of Single-Source and Digital Booster panels.

A month later in May, 2017 BARC announced that Nielsen India will be its primary digital measurement partner. Nielsen will develop India-specific adaptations for digital measurement based on its global experience. We did not see any publicity of Ekam from the side of BARC for some time, but had assumed in good faith that BARC would deliver as promised based on their tack records of TV audience measurement. In June, 2018 when Economic Times reported that BARC’s digital measurement system would get delayed by one year, ), we did not comprehend all the complications which BARC was encountering in the process of developing Ekam. ( https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/advertising/barcs-digital-measurement-system-to-get-delayed-by-another-year/articleshow/64759655.cms?from=mdr )

The above report quoted Nakul Chopra, then Chairman of BARC: “The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into effect in the European Union from May 2018 has sparked similar discussions around privacy issues in other countries as well… Our government has appointed the Srikrishna Committee. These developments have implications for the content ratings that will be part of Ekam. We need to be sure that the entire Ekam piece is compliant with the prevailing and likely data protection norms. So, while we are still pushing for an earliest possible launch, we are currently recalibrating our plans in light of these new developments.”

The Srikrishna Committee submitted its report along with the draft of Data Protection Bill in September, 2018. Based on the Committee’s recommendations “The Personal Data Protection Bill 2019” was tabled by the Minister of Electronic and Information Technology in Parliament on  11December , 2019 and was immediately sent for further analysis by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Under the present political climate in our country which is causing frequent black out of internet in select areas, it would not be surprising if the PDP Bill 2019 gets lapsed before it gets a chance to be registered as an Act.

But the real reason of the delay in the process of launching Ekam is not compliance or lack of compliance with regulations of Personal Data Protection. In late 2018 there were rumours in the market that Nielsen had not been able to provide a suitable solution acceptable to all stakeholders. There was a very low key announcement in May, 2019 that BARC is evolving its own mechanism for digital audience measurement as its association with Nielsen has come to an end. Obviously, this was a major setback to the entire process as BARC might have to start developing the system from the scratch unless it has developed a parallel system on its own.

Apart from the technology of digital measurement, BARC has also has to resolve another serious issues of participation by Google and Facebook in their measurement survey. Though BARC has not made any official announcement, yet by now it is widely known in the industry that Google has refused to participate in the digital measurement survey proposed by BARC by citing their global policies related to third party measurement of their content and data privacy agreement with their users. The Indian digital video content producers/ OTT platform owners are willing to participate provided BARC gets Google and Facebook included in the survey. It has become a real Catch 22 situation with no immediate solution in sight.

In January 2019, BARC exhorted Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to “empower” it to be the uniform measurer of audience and other data related to TV, and OTT and digital platforms.    (https://www.indiantelevision.com/television/tv-channels/viewership/barc-india-exhorts-trai-to-empower-it-as-digital-measurer-190114) It was a smart move to counter competitors like Comscore, etc. who enjoy patronage of Google. However, till date TRAI has not responded to BARC’s petition.

During January and February 2019, www.bestmediainfo.com carried a few provocative articles by Niraj Sharma exploring the reasons behind the delay in Ekam. The articles speculated on the lack of support Ekam was getting from ISA and why Google was not cooperating with BARC and allowing them to measure both ad and content viewership on their platforms. While I do not agree with all the points made by Sharma, I concede that if ISA as a body could take an uniform stand, then Google might have to reconsider their decision regarding participation in Ekam. Both Google and Facebook consider India to be an important market for their future growth and value the business which they get from Indian advertising industry.

The question which BARC needs to address now is how to revive and kickstart Ekam in 2020. Apart from the technological needs, there seems to be the need of a master negotiator for solving the participation issues with Google and Facebook. BARC can simplify their offerings for doing a survey of only ads across all digital media platforms followed by a survey of digital contents minus Google and Facebook content. Will Sunil Lulla, the new CEO of BARC, find a solution acceptable to all the stakeholders? If Ekam cannot be revived during this year, then probably it will be shelved forever which will be not only a wastage of financial resources and time, but also a setback for media research in India.

 

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