Television

VIEWPOINT: A STORM IN A TEACUP

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The Laffaire TRPs for sale has raised a few questions. Even indiantelevision.com was at the receiving end of an anonymous docket yesterday evening containing the same scandalous details about the two TRP systems  INTAM and TAM - as was received probably by CNBC India and scores of other newspapers and magazines. It was addressed to me with Mumbai as the address; no further details were provided. It was delivered by a well-dressed man who obviously was not a courier but an employee of an agency which was commissioned to deliver the dockets. He disappeared as quickly as he came.

Apparently, an effort was on to disparage the two people meter systems. For reasons known best to the industry. Apparently, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation has been in conversation with the ad agencies and the two research bodies to clean up both INTAM and TAMs acts and the two had been reticient.

Even as little as two months ago when I met up with the CEO of a channel I was told that the ratings game sucked and the two agencies had lots of holes in their ratings modus operandi. And if indiantelevision.com was really interested in television, we would investigate into the matter and blow the cover off TV ratings in India.

We simply chose not to pursue the issue. Other publications and magazines were also approached; all of them were wary. Because indeed, everyone in industry knows that TV ratings are not perfect; they are simply meant to be an indicator of viewing trends. Today, it is Star Plus which is leading the ratings game and has been doing so for the past year. Two years back it was Zee TV with Sony neck and neck with it. Zee TV was perched atop the ratings pecking order for four years. Before that DD was Lord of all it aired to, if one went by the diary entry method employed by both IMRB and ORG-Marg. Tomorrow, it could well be SABe TV which shoots up there. Or for all you know Sahara TV.

Hence, there was no cause for panic and attempting a tehelka, which may well prove to be a wrong turn. One checked with neighbours; one checked with children, one checked with relatives in smaller towns what they were watching and everywhere one got the response - KBC and KSBKBT or Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki during prime time. All were on Star Plus.

Like was the case with Zee TV, a couple of years ago. And the ratings reflected that. While we did not know whether the numbers were totally accurate; they at least appeared to reflect what individuals told us.

To us laffaire TRPs for sale appeared to be a motivated campaign with a single-point agenda: discredit the ratings and hence create doubts about Star Plus pole position in the viewership ratings sweepstakes.

The documents sent to our office have one attachment which purportedly explains how Star and Balaji Telefilms manipulate the ratings.

Who stands to benefit if the two are discredited? The other big two: Sony and Zee TV. While the rival channels may roast us for stating this so blatantly, they cannot run away from the fact that they have to focus on the basics: improve their programming; give shows that viewers want and not what advertisers or CEOs friends want to supply. Focus on the basics; focus on the viewer.

There is a lot of talk doing the rounds in the television industry as to the possible movers behind all this and they need to be mentioned.

One possibility is that the two rivals got together on the discredit TRPs campaign. After all my enemy is your enemy; so we are friends. Zee TV supplied the list; Sony Entertainment used CNBC to stoke the controversy. After all CNBC is part of the Sony bouquet and has the right SEC audience; blowing the issue on Zee News made little sense; on CNBC it made eminent sense.

Another is that VNU - the parent of both the systems - could have been behind the campaign. Create a controversy and then go ahead and merge the two systems, with least opposition from reluctant professionals of the two research agencies who want to keep both of them existant.

The third possibility is that the reporter from CNBC stumbled on the story on her own; got clearance from her boss and the others just rode it happily giving vent to their spleen; and capitalised on the controversy.

Whatever, be the origins of LAffaire TRPs for Sale, it will result in a new sample; better security of the peoplemeters and the list (you mean no one will be able to get a copy of the list of the viewership sample in future??? ) The purging of Intam and Tam. Who knows a merger, possibly. A more streamlined system.

The fact is: not one person from the Mumbai sample interviewed on CNBC agreed that there was any interference or coercion from any of the channels to influence them as they went about watching television daily. So whats the storm all about?

And if at the end of all the cleaning up and expense - which will finally be borne by the cable and satellite television industry, ad agencies and marketers - would it not be funny if the meters start spewing out similar viewership numbers as are available today? Has anyone given a thought to that.

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