Comment: Government must not interfere in TV measurement!

05 Nov,2020

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

MxMIndia has been consistent on its position that the government mustn’t have any role in the television ratings process. We wrote this in 2018, and earlier in 2016 and perhaps a few more times. That the government would appoint a committee to review guidelines on television rating agencies in India, was known. Earlier this year,  on the eve of BARC’s fifth anniversary (https://www.mxmindia.com/2020/04/on-eve-of-barcs-5th-birthday-trai-issues-recommendations-on-tv-audience-measurement/), TRAI issued recommendations on the way ratings should happen.

 

So while we were appalled when on Wednesday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting constituted a committee to review guidelines on television rating agencies in India notified by it in 2014, we weren’t surprised. We thought that in the spirit of ‘Ease of Doing Business’, the government wouldn’t interfere. That we guess was asking for too much. It’s the government after all.

 

It’s time the media ecosystem – broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies – must ask the government to not interfere.

 

While a review of how BARC is performing is good to do, and what measurement should be like is a must and must be evaluated often enough, did it require the MIB 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. 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. As always, vested interests have evidently got onto the act and prevailed upon the government to do this.

 

It appears that the genesis of the problem is the unity (or lack of it) amongst and within the three constituents. It is incorrect to let the government interfere. In fact, I may add here that the government’s intervention is a slap in the face of the stakeholders.

 

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 also 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 is 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 takes 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.

 

Frankly, if I am advertiser, I can decide on the criteria for advertising on a certain channel. It could be ratings, it could the colour of the CEO’s shirt or saree, it could be whatever. Why should anyone else decide what the ratings should be. Will the government ask HUL, Amul, Dream11 to give reasons why it is paying XYZ crore rupees to Channel X or Y for its ads? Will the government ask Media Agency ABC why it is suggesting Channel V or W for its advertising. That’s a contract between the advertiser and the agency… Aap Inke Hain Kaun?

 

Also, there can be multiple ratings agencies that can co-exist. Competition is always good to have, but measurement is an expensive exercise to conduct, and someone has to pay for it. From what I understand, the downturn has already impacted the subscription monies of BARC. It’s alright to talk of the need for competition, but one must remember that it doesn’t come free. That is if you want a quality measurement exercise.

 

Bottomline: Broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies need to do some tough talking with the government. BARC must not toe the government’s line. BARC must not subject itself to the government’s demands.

 

If BARC doesn’t do its job properly, its joint owners and subscribers will stop paying for its services. That by itself will ensure that it will provide good service. If a channel feels aggrieved, it can petition the association it is a part of to advise/tell/order BARC.

 

Simple. Hai na? Time for the ecosystem to flex its muscles. And say: Hum Aapke Hai Kaun? And Kyun?

 

This is the communique from the Press Information Bureau website:

 

Ministry of I&B constitutes committee to review Guidelines on Television Rating Agencies in India

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has today constituted a committee to review “Guidelines on Television Rating Agencies in India” notified by the Ministry in 2014.

The present guidelines issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) on Television Rating Agencies in India were notified after detailed deliberations by the Parliamentary Committee, Committee on Television Rating Points (TRP) constituted by the MIB and recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority etc.

It has been found, based on the operation of the guidelines for a few years, that there is need to have a fresh look on the guidelines particularly keeping in view the recent recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), technological advancements / interventions to address the system and further strengthening of the procedures for a credible and transparent rating system.

A committee has been hereby constituted to study different aspects of the television rating system in India as they have evolved over a period of time.  The Committee shall carry out an appraisal of the existing system; examine TRAI recommendations notified from time to time, overall industry scenario and addressing the needs of the stakeholders and make recommendations for robust, transparent and accountable rating system through changes, if any, in the existing guidelines.

 

The composition of the Committee shall be as under:-

i)             Shri Shashi S. Vempati, CEO, Prasar Bharti                 …. Chairman

ii)            Dr Shalabh, Professor of Statistics,

Department of Mathematics and Statistics,

IIT Kanpur                                                                           ….Member

iii)           Dr. Rajkumar Upadhyay, Executive Director,

C-DOT                                                                                  ….Member

iv)           Professor Pulak Ghosh, Decision Sciences

Centre for Public Policy (CPP)                                         ….Member

 

The Terms of Reference for the Committee shall be as under:

a. Study past recommendations made by various forums on the subject of television rating systems in India and matter incidental thereto;

b. Study recent recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority on the subject;

c. Suggest steps for enhancing competition in the sector;

d. Review of the presently notified guidelines to see if the intended purpose(s) of issuing the guidelines have stood the test of time and has met needs of various stakeholders involve The lacunae, if any, shall be specially addressed by the Committee;

e. Any issues related or incidental to the subject;

f. To make recommendations on way forward for robust, transparent and accountable rating system in India; and

g. Any other related issues assigned by MIB from time to time.

 

The Committee can invite any expert as a special invitee. The Committee will submit its report to the Minister for Information & Broadcasting within two months.

 

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