Over the past week, major news channels like Arnab Goswami led Republic TV and India Today have been locked in a battle of allegations regarding an alleged scam involving Television Rating Points (TRP), after the Mumbai Police accused Republic TV and two other Marathi channels - Fakt Marathi and Box Cinemas - of rigging the ratings. The Mumbai Police took action based on a complaint filed by a subsidiary of Broadcast Audience Research Council - a television ratings agency registered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Senior members of the media industry soon started pointing out that the rigging of TRP is hardly new, and has been going on for a while now
TRP And Its Importance
TRP represents the amount of time spent by people of different socio-economic categories in watching a particular channel. The ratings are released every weak by the BARC on their website.
The primarily role played by TRP is in attracting advertisers. Since the rating functions as an indication of which channels at which times are watched the most, this guides the advertisers on booking slots accordingly.
In turn, TRP also guides broadcasters in setting the cost for advertisement in their channels. A highly rated show in a particular channel will enable the broadcaster to increase the cost and make more profits.
How Is TRP Calculated?
BARC has installed meters, known as BAR-o-meters, which fetch data directly from television by capturing the audio output. The agency uses a method called 'individual user identification' to determine the demographics of viewers in chosen households.
These meters are installed in around 45,000 households, divided into 12 categories, covering a population of 80 crore people.
Special handheld remote controls are provided to each household, which contains buttons assigned for every member of the household (above 2 years of age). While watching TV, as part of panel participation, the member must press the button assigned to him or her.
The viewership data is then recorded and transmitted according the audio on the television, and the user IDs of the viewers, which is identified when the user presses the assigned button.
Can TRP Be Rigged?
Since the meters are installed in about 45,000 households, TRP ratings do not represent the actual popularity of channels.
Furthermore, if some news channels can ascertain some of the households where meters are installed, they can attempt at rigging the ratings by fraudulent means (such as influencing the behaviour of the members of the household by bribing them).
Columnist Aunindyo Chakravarty put out a tweet thread last week explaining the process by which news channels can rig TRPs. According to Chakravarty, a news channel could bribe a household by buying them a brand-new television set, and in return ask them to switch their existing TV with the BAR-o-meter to their channel for long hours.
"Remember that an English channel is watched for just 8 minutes per head per day. Imagine what 4 meter-homes watching for even one hour will do to the ratings of an English news channel. Their TRP will go up by 6-7 times, giving them a massive advantage over others," Chakravarty said in the thread.
BOOM spoke to Chakravarty, who explained that this process has been going on for decades, with BARC failing to take actions despite being notified of the practice multiple times.
"You rig 50 meters, where there are about 210 viewers, and you tell them to leave the TV on 5 hours a day (on a particular channel), the impact is that a 20% market share English news channel will jump and go to nearly 80% viewership," he said.
In response to the ongoing controversy, a BARC India spokesperson stated, "BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report 'What India Watches'. BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it."
With the agency seemingly failing to stop such an enduring issue, advertisers and media agencies are beginning to reevaluate spending on news channels.
Bajaj Auto managing director Rajiv Bajaj told CNBC TV18 that his company has blacklisted three channels for advertisements. "A strong brand is a foundation on which you build a strong business. At the of the day the purpose of a strong business is to also contribute to the society. Our brand has never associated with anything we feel is a source of toxicity in the society," he added.
Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head at Parle G, told Live Mint last week that the company will stop spending on channels broadcasting toxic content.
"We are exploring possibilities wherein other advertisers can come together and sort of put a restraint on their advertising spends on news channels, so that there is some sort of a clear signal to all the news channels, that they better change their content, " he said.
Updated On: 2020-10-13T13:17:10+05:30