TRP-edoed again

| Updated on October 15, 2020 Published on October 15, 2020

The TV audience ratings system is flawed and it is time that a workable alternative is evolved

It’s an old controversy in a new form. Every few years, audience measurement systems — the metrics used by advertisers to decide the media vehicle for their TV commercials — come in for huge flak. It happened in 2003 when a private channel appeared to be ahead of Doordarshan, which seemed quite illogical given that the public broadcaster’s reach extended to over 90 per cent of TV homes. At that time there were two ratings systems, (TAM and INTAM), each giving conflicting measurements. Subsequently both merged. Then, it blew up in 2015 when news channels created a shindig over the Nielsen-Kantar administered TAM (Television Audience Measurement). That led to the Broadcast Agency Research Council (BARC), a joint industry body coming into being, though the method of measurement did not change much. Only the number of households covered by the sampling meters increased (44,000 homes compared to less than 10,000 earlier). It’s déjà vu again with allegations of fixing against the BARC administered TRP (target rating points) system. So shrill has been the criticism that BARC has been forced to temporarily pause its audience estimates for the news genre.

TRP is considered critical by the media industry as ₹32,000 crore of advertising money rides on it. It is based on TRPs that channels and time slots are evaluated, and ad rates fixed. But are 44,000 meters enough to extrapolate for the 20 crore odd homes that have TV sets? Are the homes where these sampling meters are installed diverse enough to give a true picture of India’s non-homogeneous viewership behaviour? More importantly, is the system tamper proof? Clearly it is not. Even before the “fixing” allegation broke out, there was a landing page controversy as many a TV set powered on to a particular channel and this got counted. This time around there is an added dimension to the controversy because the news genre which is at the epicentre of the controversy is polarised. Advertisers had already begun talking of withdrawing ads from news channels with toxic narratives.

So, how should the industry resolve this? Many solutions have been put forth. One is to disband this sampling system and use advances in DTH (direct to home) technology. There is no reason why set-top box operators cannot glean viewing data, though when suggested earlier, privacy concerns had been voiced. Advertisers themselves have talked about relying less on TRP and evolving other methods for their media plan. Unfortunately, vested interests have kept alive the myth of the TRPs as these are used to negotiate higher ad rates and thereby get more commissions. There have also been calls for the government to step in as watchdog. In the past, there was also a recommendation that the five largest advertisers in the country should sit on the measurement panel. On the other side, since the news channels outrage most about TRP, they should probably focus more on subscription revenues. This could also lead to better quality of programming which everyone will welcome.

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Published on October 15, 2020
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