Indrani Sen: Exploring remedies for two burning topics stalking our industry

19 Oct,2020

By Indrani Sen

 

The last 12 days have been very eventful for our industry on one hand about Mumbai Police reporting a TRP scam involving TV channels and on the other hand about social media vandalism related to the Tanishq commercial based on the story of an interfaith marriage. The first issue is still under investigation, but based on initial available evidence, BARC decided to suspend reporting the TRPs for news channels for three months.

 

The second issue has seen more decisive and quick actions and let us look at that first: The uproar by a section of netizens over their different social media handles protesting against the interfaith marriage story shown in the Tanishq commercial, things took an ugly turn with some of the Tanishq executives getting threatened on their Linkedin accounts, call for boycott of all Tata products, etc. The share of Titan, the holding company of Tanishq fell by 2.18%, the Tanishq shops all across the country with crores of jewellery stocks became venerable to attacks by social miscreants and Tanishq withdrew the commercial and issued a statement on a sad note “… This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objectives. We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and wellbeing of our employees, partners and store staff.” Contrary to what some people believe, the company did not tender an apology for producing the commercial.

 

Our social media users were divided in two camps on Facebook and other social media handles right from the beginning and after the commercial was withdrawn, a counter campaign has started protesting against the withdrawal. However, what has been most gratifying is the spontaneous sharing of personal stories by many couples with interfaith marriages. It has also been extremely reassuring that the industry at large has come together and IAA, AAAI, ISA, TCA etc. have issued statements condemning the social vandalism and supporting Tanishq. But the incident has raised a few very serious questions about rules and regulations required for user generated content in Facebook and other social media platforms.

 

Do we really need to control user driven content on social media?  Today with the help of artificial intelligence it should be possible to hit a warning button before individual users’ posts multiply into a hate movement and leads to online vandalism. However, such a move may also boomerang if it stops all social movements for good causes generated through user generated posts. As we have seen in case of the Tanishq commercial, there is always two sides of a coin with each side believing it is on the right side! However, we need to know if posts are getting generated by genuine users or by fake users. We understand social media marketers have adopted the concept of buzz marketing and instead of appointing real time online buzz marketers, they take the easy way out by creating fake social media accounts. Our Advertising and Marketing Industry should take initiative to interact with the owners of social media platforms for stopping this practice and ensure that anyone posting on social media is a genuine user. Users should be stopped from owning multiple accounts on social media platforms even at the cost of the platforms losing number of users.

 

The second incident about the TRP scam has kept our TV news channels, media agencies, advertisers and BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) and the investigative agencies busy ever since the news was published on October 8, 2020. The process began with Mumbai Police Commissioner announcing in a press conference on October 8 about a FIR against few TV channels and has been going on since then with claims and counter claims and legal suits being filed in Delhi and Mumbai.  The story has got a lot of coverage in mainstream newspapers where it hit front pages news and was covered through multiple stories on each day. Couple of newspapers also took the trouble of educating their readers on definition of  TRP, the methodology of the audience research, how BARC collects and processes TV viewing data, etc. Industry websites have been carrying multiple stories and interviews with industry stalwarts for last few days. We have also carried number of stories including two write-ups by MxMIndia’s Pradyuman Maheshwari.

 

I shall not repeat the narratives of the second incident which have already been posted in www.mxmindia.com. This is not the first time that we are facing complaints on TRP related issues and this will not be the last time unless the industry introduces severe measures for the offenders.    The various industry bodies need to review the problem and take very stern measure for stopping such malpractices in future.  My suggestion is if a representative of any TV channel is found guilty of tampering with generation or collection of TRP data, then that channel should be barred from the BARC roaster of TV channels for a period of three to five years, long enough to be able to make a negative impact on their advertising business.

 

If the owner or any other top executive of the TV channel is proved to be a party in any such devious practice, then he or she or the channel would have to pay heavy fines to TRAI/ BARC for the misconduct. Failure to pay the fines may result in the TV Channel losing its rights for uploading and downloading for a specific period. The TV channels would have to create legally bound strong employment contracts ensuring that they are able to partially recover the loss of business from the errant employees who may be instigated by a competitive channel tor indulging in illegal activity. To sum up, unless the industry bodies as well as TRAI review and redesign the rules for punishing malpractices related to TV ratings, we would never be able to have a robust audience measurement system in spite of all the technological advancements.

 

 Indrani Sen is a veteran mediaperson and now an academic. She writes on MxMIndia on most Mondays. Her views here are personal

 

 

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