Television

"BARC would like to make the entire TV ratings process future-ready": BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta

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At first appearance, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta comes across as a pretty mild-mannered professional. But don‘t let that fool you: beneath the mild exterior is a steel-backed executive who has faced many a challenging task in diverse consumer industries and media where he has implemented large and small start up projects. Among this figure: Times Now, Future Media, The Economic Times and Times Multimedia. This apart, he also had an entrepreneurial stint where he co-founded a media company, apart from advising media startups and venture firms and their invested companies on brand strategies. So it is no surprise that the BARC board chose him to steer the setting up of a TV viewership monitoring system when there is a crisis of confidence around the only currency operational in India today - TAM Media.

Indiantelevision.com‘s Seema Singh and Zeba Warsi spoke to Dasgupta to find out on what challenges await him, why he took up the job, and how he sees the road ahead.

Excerpts:

What are your feelings on being appointed the first CEO of BARC? What have you been busy with since joining it? And why did you take up the challenge considering the kind of brickbats that are being hurled at LVK now after years of doing the ratings? Who was it that coaxed you take it up?

I am very happy to sit in the hot seat. Just before this I was managing the preschool business and the k12 school business growth of Educomp. I am looking forward to contribute to the broadcast industry, which I am very fond of. I love challenges - if you see my background none have been very easy roles. There was a time, then, when the joke was going around and similarly I am hearing now- whether one will ‘Bark or Bite‘ (pun intended). That is simply whether we will live up to all the hype surrounding BARC. It‘s all in good humour and I enjoy the challenge.

You have worked with Times Now, Future Media and also worked with ET during their growth years. You also took a shot at entrepreneurship. How will you use that experience while working with BARC?

I have been doing startups for the last 14 years - I love the whole drill - of blocking urls, looking for office, setting up new teams, new brands, processes and managing finances. I have also been on both sides of the table, as a broadcaster and also a client - so I guess I understand the pains of all sides. I am looking forward to go the whole hog again.

What are the first few major tasks ahead of you taking over as the CEO?

The single mandate is to design, commission, supervise and own India‘s Broadcast Measurement System. Towards this end, the establishment survey, covering approx 2.4 lakh individuals across India is already underway. This survey will give us details on television penetration in both urban and rural areas; viewership habits across all broadcasting modes, be it terrestrial, C&S, DTH, analog and digital platforms, and other developing and new platforms including newer modes of viewing; as well as viewer demographics. The study would become the basis of designing the rating panel.

At the same time, separate RFPs for research and technology have been floated globally. Once the proposals are in, the technical committee will scrutinize all proposals in order to select the best in class research methodologies and technology. This will comprise senior experts from the industry representing all stakeholders. Experts in the technology domain are being co-opted to give us insights on the best technology available. So we are ensuring that thought leaders, domain experts and people with relevant skills are all on board from across our stakeholders to assess the best methodologies available globally.



The group will look into all three parameters:

  • Technology of equipment across all broadcast mechanisms
  •  
  • Capture and analysis of data
  •  
  • Dissemination of data to users

The global competitive bidding will ensure that India gets the best in class, cutting edge broadcast measurement system.

Tell us about the structure of BARC, the members, representation and so on. Should there be equal representation from broadcasters, agencies and advertisers like it was initially envisaged?

The broadcasters, agencies and advertisers are duly represented through their respective bodies namely IBF, AAAI and ISA. We are a neutral nodal body which will be working in a tandem with the three representative bodies. The members of each body find representation in the 10-member Board of BARC, which is already in place. The council will have its own management structure reporting to the Board.

The tech committee has been working on certain presumptions? What are these and how do you see the tech committee contributing to making the BARC more relevant over the years?

There are no presumptions that anyone of us are working on. Our one line mandate is to design, commission, supervise and own India‘s broadcast measurement system. And all of us are working to ensure that we get the best in class research and technology to deliver a product that would be the gold standard of broadcast research.

BARC is striving to ensure the best of research methodologies combined with the best of technology to deliver world-class measurement.

 How do you envision the BARC office to be like - how many staff, how many people employed by it? How do you see this evolving? What will they be doing?

We are evolving the structure. The mandate is clear and the structure will follow. We will be headquartered in Mumbai and we will be outsourcing a lot of professionals and services for specific functions.

Tell us about the professionals you have hired so far from the industry...Any reputed names?

We will be getting many professionals on board. Currently we have Mubin Khan as the vice president of BARC. (Khan has previously worked as senior AVP at Zee Network, media controller at Contract Advertising India Ltd., associate media controller at Mudra Communications Ltd. and was also vice-chairman of the Technical Committee of the IRS - the premier readership survey - conducted by Media Research Users Council among several other accolades.)

What was the response to the RFIs like? Were there any surprising firms which have been observed on the list - like Infosys and TCS? Which other surprises popped up?

The response has been very good across both research and technology companies. Global research and technology leaders have collected the RFP documents. I cannot reveal anything more at this point as NDAs have been signed with all firms concerned.

How is the RFP process progressing? How many responses have you got? When do you expect to make announcements for the same?

We haven‘t received any responses as of now. Separate proposals for research and technology have been sent to the various companies involved. As they go through the RFP, companies are raising certain queries, which are being formally addressed. The deadline to submit proposals is still more than a month away. The evaluation panel would scrutinize all proposals in order to select the best in class research methodologies and technology. This will comprise senior experts from the industry representing all stakeholders. Experts in the technology domain are being co-opted to give us insights on the best technology available. So we are ensuring that thought leaders, domain experts and people with relevant skills are all on board from across our stakeholders to assess the best methodologies available globally.

What‘s the current status of the council? 

The council is already operational. We are waiting for the RFP responses and talks are on with all bodies to better understand their concerns. The responses are expected next month.

With the likelihood of TAM not being used as a barometer for the broadcast industry, it is quite likely that you will have to speed up your coming to market time to earlier than mid-2014? Do you think you are geared up to achieve that and what is the game plan and what signposts you will have to move forward to achieve this requirement quicker?

The establishment survey is underway and should be out for us in December-January. After the panel discusses it, we may release it for public in February -March. The process is not an overnight one, it will take its due time and we don‘t want to rush. We are on course for a launch next year as originally planned

Do you think what is happening to TAM is reasonable - the broadcaster back lash? What in your perception accelerated this? What is your advice to LVK and TAM?

No comments.

TAM has been accused of being ambiguous and lacking the required transparency. How do you plan to bring in transparency, accuracy and logical reasoning in the results?

BARC is striving to ensure the best of research methodologies combined with the best of technology to deliver world-class measurement. To that end separate RFPs for research and technology have been floated globally. The evaluation panel will scrutinize all proposals in order to select the best in class research methodologies and technology. This will comprise senior experts from the industry representing all stakeholders. Experts in the technology domain are being co-opted to give us insights on the best technology available. So we are ensuring that thought leaders, domain experts and people with relevant skills are all on board from across our stakeholders to assess the best methodologies available globally.

The baby is not born yet. It is too early to start speculating on how many siblings it should have. Besides, if others want to set up a rating agency, we are not stopping and cannot stop them. It is a free country.

 Do you think the ministry, TRAI and the industry as a whole prepared for a self regulatory mechanism of TV ratings? What kind of checks and balances are you going to put in to make everyone in the ecosystem comfortable?

BARC is not a research agency. We will be working with specialists in research and technology to deliver cutting edge research. There would be adequate representation of various stakeholders in the process to ensure proper checks and balances.

Do you think all categories will be content with BARC- GECs, news- English and regional and Niche? How will BARC achieve that? 

It is obvious that we have to address the concerns of all stakeholders. And we are doing so through dialogues with all concerned. If anybody has a concern, they will obviously share it with their representative bodies, who are a part of the Board.

Is the Indian TV universe more rural or more urban? How will you address issues of broadcasters who have seen a reduction of the TV universe under TAM‘s expansion into LC1 towns? Are you sure the results will not be the same as TAM‘s are currently?

Let us await the results of the establishment survey before commenting on this.

How will you address and cover a continually digitising India in terms of cable TV rolling out in phase III and phase IV of the cable TV universe? As well as expanding DTH homes…

It is too early to comment on this. However, as mentioned earlier, we have a mandate to design, commission, supervise and own India‘s broadcast measurement system. This system will have to be inclusive, covering all aspects of our country‘s heterogeneity. We believe digitisation will actually make it easier for us.

What kind of tech are you looking at putting in place? Stationary intrusive people meters which involve users to manually put in their inputs by pressing their remotes? Or more evolved ones which senses people‘s presence in the room via advanced tech? Or mobile hand held devices which have similar capabilities? And how will you incorporate tech which can be integrated with the STBs? In the next five years India will probably have about 100 million of these?

It is too early to comment on the kind of technology, given that the RFP process is underway. Having said that, let me state that BARC would look at all technologies available. We would like to make the entire ratings mechanism process future-ready.

How will the ratings system be funded annually? What kind of ratings are you hoping to deliver - overnight or weekly or monthly?

BARC is a non-profit organisation under Section 25 of the companies Act, 1956. The various industry constituents would fund the research. All users of data and analysis will subscribe and pay for the same.

TAM used only 8150-10,000 households for its rating system which was perceived as not being adequate to represent the population of 15.5 crore TV households in India. Tell us about your survey sample, how many homes, which markets, etc.

The final contours of the panel size and dispersion will be decided only after the establishment survey is complete and the proposals studied. As mentioned earlier, the establishment survey is covering approx 2.4 lakh homes across urban and rural India.

When the decision of setting up the council first came up in 2008, it was a joint venture only between IBF and ISA. Then how did AAAI enter the venture?

BARC represents the entire industry. Hence, it made eminent sense to have all stakeholders on board.

The initial investment for setting up BARC was Rs 300 million? Has the investment gone up? If yes, by how much? How was the breakup ratio between IBF, ISF and AAAI decided?

No Comments

Self-regulation mechanism has worked in some cases, and hasn‘t in some. How do you think BARC will envisage this mechanism in its functioning as opposed to TAM?

BARC has representation from all stakeholders of the industry. It thus has an in-built mechanism.

There is an accusation that "Self-regulation of television rating system in India has failed to take off as BARC has not been able to take any credible action on the recommendations made by TRAI and by Dr Mitra‘s Committee. What did the report say? Are the accusations true? How much has BARC worked on it?

I have taken charge just this month, and the BARC team has also been just set up. We shall take up the issues as they come. Right now, the focus is on the RFPs.

Following the report, BARC had also set up in-depth research team to study audience measurement system, particularly BARB, the UK‘s audience measurement system, how has that translated in your current structure? Are there any comparisons to be drawn between the two?

BARC and its stakeholders have been studying the various models and methodologies adopted by broadcast measuring companies and organisations across more than 30 countries across the globe. And we will certainly look at incorporating the best research methodologies and technology available.

Having said that, India has a lot many complexities that are unique to our country. Be it in the demographic or socio-cultural heterogeneity, the linguistic, geographic and economic disparities or even the hours of accessibility to electricity, any study done in India has to take cognizance of each of these unique complexities, and many more.

BARC plans to be very robust. Does your set up involve putting in place a complaint mechanism system? If yes, please elaborate.

For any organisation that is in the service industry, a robust feedback mechanism is a must. BARC is an industry body representing all constituents. There would definitely be continuous dialogue between BARC and its constituents. And this would also incorporate formal feedback mechanisms.

We are aware that history has shown us that the market can only support one rating currency. But even as recently as yesterday, outgoing I&B secretary Uday Kumar Varma expressed reservations about a monopoly of ratings. He also said that maybe there should be more than one rating system to provide competition in the business, which will also result in enhancing the credibility of ratings. TAM which earlier was the sole rating system has allegedly goofed up and was highly criticised. What is your reaction to this? And why should BARC enjoy monopoly of ratings?

The baby is not born yet. It is too early to start speculating on how many siblings it should have. Besides, if others want to set up a rating agency, we are not stopping and cannot stop them. It is a free country.

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