10 Takeaways from the Ratings Scam

21 Jan,2021

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

Over the last few weeks, a lot of people from within the industry and outside of it have been calling me to enquire on what’s being called the ‘TRP Scam’ or the ‘Ratings Scam’. There are a few who are calling it ‘ArnabGate’. According to me, it’s basically an ‘Ego Gate’. Or an ‘I Am Bigger Than You’ War.

 

 

We do know that Partho Dasgupta’s bail has been rejected. His family and friends suggest that he has been thrashed in jail and is still fighting to survive. I have learnt his condition has improved slightly. He is still on oxygen support.

 

As I wrote earlier, we want him to come out of this soonest. I read a report based on his wife’s complaint to the human rights commission. I am not sure how much it will help things. The bank accounts accounts of both Dasgupta and his have reportedly been frozen.

 

Some friends and family are trying to organise monies for the family to sail through. Lawyers don’t come cheap. And he needs to fight his battle alone. From the hospital bed.

 

So, for the benefit of those wish to be in the know, here are my 10 takeaways on the story so far:

 

 

Endgame for Partho in Media:

 

It is said that Dasgupta isn’t the first person in the country to face something like this. My view is that he is perhaps the first: for, he’s caught in the crossfire like few others have in the past – never ever in the Indian media.

 

Can he come out of it? My belief is he will. Can he be getting back to work in the Indian media again? I doubt he would want to do that. I don’t think he should. He’s an engineer and an IIM Cal graduate, am sure there are several avenues ahead for him.

 

But, from the conversations I’ve read in the transcripts and the unverified forensic report, he’s going to have to do a lot of explaining.

 

 

All Eyes on Arnab:

 

Arnab Goswami

The government has retreated on the Farm Laws. China and India’s foreign offices are in touch. North Korea and the South are talking. Trump is out of office. So, will Arnab do a climbdown and change his stand? The moment he does, life for Dasgupta will ease. The question is: will he? From what I know of the man, and more importantly what he says on TV, he is not going to buckle under and apologise. Which is sad. He should. Get a via media. Partho Dasgupta and his family could be smiling again. His wife, his daughter will be happy to have him back.

 

Arnab, when you go to bed tonight, spare a thought for a father’s not-so-little-any-longer girl. You are a dad yourself. Imagine what his daughter is going through. Ego chhodo, ek family ki life ban jayegi.

 

I know this sounded very filmy, but it’s a fact.

 

 

Uddhav & the Maha government:

 

The Maharashtra Chief Minister, his son and the rest of the government have shown us who calls the shots in the state.

 

Someone must step in. Draw up reasonable terms of endearment between Arnab, the industry and the MVA government. Perhaps request Sharad Pawar to broker a deal (How we miss folks like Amar Singh and Pramod Mahajan now!). Perhaps ask an industry biggie who Arnab would listen to. Uday Shankar, Prannoy Roy or even Dr Annurag Batra.

 

 

Ab bas, Times of India:

 

Times of India officeThere is good reason for the group to be aggrieved. Republic – minus all the media muscle of the Media Empire – got to be #1 in Week 1 of its ops. And caused much damage TOI’s profits and clout in TV newsdom. Right from the time Republic launched and erred in its eyes (and that of a few/many others in the news space), The Times of India group – as owners of Times Now – has played more than a ringside spectator.

 

Arnab Goswami of course tried to rub things in. The amount of coverage on the current controversy and its placement would make one feel that it’s the most important news developement in the country after the farmers’ stir and that lady of part-Tamil origin assuming the secondmost important job in the US.

 

Someone needs to get TOI to take it easy. Also, TOI’s role could also be a weapon for naysayers on media crossownership.

 

I’m sure the Times folks know it: if Republic has to fail, it will be its journalism that will pull it down. Or a change in the government in New Delhi. Orchestrating public perception against Goswami is pointless.

 

 

Question Marks on Ratings:

 

I have seen parts of the Forensic Report and WhatsApp transcrips. The conversation seems to be authentic and hasn’t been disputed. The transcripts are a lot of loose chatter, but the report points to various excesses in its executive summary.

 

Clearly the eye of the needle points to others as well – in the Telugu space as well as amongst other channels. For instance, what about a certain channel being promised and prepped for #2? Why?

 

I think there ought to be a thorough enquiry on what has happened. Ideally it should’ve been done by the industry, but since it’s a divided house, the Courts will have to be called in. A retired judge of the Courts perhaps.

 

 

Industry Needs to Rethink Strategy:

 

Ratings are primarily generated for advertisers to advertise, media agencies to advise advertisers and broadcasters to sell advertising space and craft their content.

 

What we have now is a complete breakdown of the system, as I see it.

 

BARC and the industry bodies that co-own it must re-look at a refresh. If 44,000 is too small a number of panel homes, work out the ideal number and then don’t diss it. Be willing to pay for it. If the government and lawmakers (MPs) finds the sample size too low, they must  do whatever needs to be done to make the ratings more affordable. Perhaps trim the tax on the meter boxes.

 

 

BARC ownership needs to be revisited:

 

The broadcasters’ ownership of 60 per cent of BARC is a problem. It needs to be equal, but then advertisers and agencies won’t pay any more for the set-up.

 

Perhaps the financial structure needs to change. How about a certain percentage of all advertising generated by a channel going to the measurement agency. So: GST + MS (Measurement Service). If a channel wants measurement, it must allow for this to happen.

 

I am aware that this was being considered eight-odd years back when BARC was in the works, but there needs to be a revisit of the best way forward.

 

 

Checks & Balances Please

 

Checks & Balances IconThe agency entrusted with the forensic audit has advised a regular forensic check-up and audit of BARC’s workings.

 

I am told a lot of it is being/has been implemented. BARC needs to work on earning back the faith of the industry and the masses asap.

 

 

Monthly ratings for News & Niche Channels:

 

Monthly IconEven the gods will tell you this, but some key players want it as a weekly.

 

It’s time BARC and the industry doesn’t budge on doing what’s good for measurement and the greater good of the industry.

 

 

Let’s All Be Good People:

 

Spy iconWhatsApp messages and emails can never be top secret. Phone calls can be recorded. As also face-to-face meetings.

 

So, let’s just be good, sincere, honest people.

 

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