NDTV decided to lock horns with TAM and its parent companies, Kantar which is owned by WPP as well as Nielsen, in July-end.

The company has filed a lawsuit in a New York Court and alleged that the viewership ratings are manipulated and the audience measurement system is being tampered with in favour of certain players.

The lawsuit has sent shock waves across the industry with several broadcasters pointing to the problems of TAM data.

In its lawsuit, NDTV has said that independent opinion polls pegged its viewership share above 50 per cent.

However, TAM’s data during this period said the channel had lower viewership.

The channel has said in the lawsuit that the identity of people meter homes is not a top secret and that information is available to one and all for a price and that these homes were compromised through bribes to watch certain channels for a longer period to artificially increase ratings of those channels.

It also said that it did a sting operation and has shown photographs and video recording from such homes to TAM officials as well officials of its parent companies, Kantar and Nielsen.

TAM is a joint venture between WPP-owned Kantar Media and Nielsen. The channel has also stated that it was easier to manipulate data as the sample size for data collation by TAM is just a little over 8,000 homes, which means bribing and manipulating only a select number of homes can cause significant change in the data.

The News Broadcasters Association had urged the Government to order a third party probe in the audience measurement system used by TAM and direct TAM to suspend reporting data.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has written to TAM and its parent companies on monopoly as well as ownership of TAM and had asked Trai to formulate guidelines on ownership on audience measurement bodies and crossholding as well as accreditation system.

Meanwhile, the government has also asked Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) to speed up formation of an alternative audience measurement body, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), for a transparent system. TAM has, on its own, assured IBF, AAAI and ISA that it will work on increasing the sample size, strengthening the security of people meter homes among other steps.

The Ministry has also asserted that it was the first one to point out the problems of low sample size as well as lack of coverage of rural areas, especially Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.

While Chandra refused to comment on the TRPs issue as well as the lawsuit, he says, “Sometimes one needs a game-changer. Our lawsuit has acted as a catalyst with efforts now being made by everyone to improve the audience measurement system. There is no chance for anyone to brush it under the carpet now. The elephant in the room has now been seen.”

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