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Broadcasters split over TRAI’s directive to BARC on TV viewership data

BARC is releasing weekly data only to subscribers for now

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MUMBAI: The latest episode in the ongoing tariff order implementation saga saw industry watchdog and regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), direct TV ratings monitoring body - Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) - to publish ratings and TV viewership data from the week ending 8 February on its website with immediate effect. BARC, which was set up as an industry-funded body, citing the implementation of the new framework, has been releasing the data only to its subscribers. Earlier, the audience measurement firm published the weekly data on its website every Thursday.

Indiantelevision.com spoke to several broadcasters, none of who wanted to be identified, about the latest development to gain perspective.

“ISA has already advised that you should not use this data for planning. If there is a transition happening it will reflect in the data. Advertisers need to figure out how they want to maximise their investment in the market place. In my point of view, it (weekly data) should be used as a broad indicator. I’m in the favour of it being published,” the CEO of a news network said.

“This is the transition period and they (BARC) are not publishing on the site but data is available between all the stakeholders, agencies, clients and broadcaster. In my opinion, the people who are not paying for the data should not get the data,” said another CEO of a news network.

Recently, TRAI extended the deadline for consumers to select television channels under its new tariff regime till 31 March. Subscribers that don’t opt for new channels would be moved to ‘Best Fit Plans’, which would be developed as per usage pattern, language and channel popularity, the sector regulator said in its statement.

“There are two ways to look at it—if the ratings are being published given the level of disruption, advertisers and marketers would want to know what is going on at the ground level. Implementation takes time and some markets may have done more implementation than other markets. So, if the data is viewed in that light then it is fine but if it’s not then it starts becoming a bit of an issue because people will plan based out of an erratic pattern and obviously no one wants that,” argued a business head of a major network.

The Indian Society of Advertisers' (ISA) executive council had advised its members to not use the BARC data for media buying, planning and evaluation perspective during the transition period, which it feels will stretch up to six weeks.

“If people view the interim data correctly and look at it and understand what it is over a period of time, then it is fine. But if they make decisions by viewing one week or two week data, then that’s when mistakes will be made. This is why there were two thoughts whether to publish the data or not. But on the other hand, it is good because people will see the progress of whether a channel is up or down. I think people should use this and make plans for the medium to long term,” he further added.

The sector regulator had asked BARC to furnish compliance by 25 February 2019, "failing which, appropriate action would be initiated" under relevant sections of the TRAI Act.

“According to me, BARC should publish the data. There’s no logic for them to not publish the viewership data. The only thing here is that consumers may be misguided because of the fluctuating viewership ratings of the channels,” opined the promoter of a regional network.

According to TRAI, BARC has ignored its previous directives of publishing ratings and viewership data for television channels.

Several industry watchers told Indiantelevision.com that it was in fact the broadcasters that weren’t keen on weekly data being published on the BARC website.

“Yes, nobody was in favour of the data being published initially. Now that the system has somewhat stabilised, we are better equipped to tackle potential issues. TRAI’s directive is on expected lines,” said a senior executive of a major broadcast network.

TRAI held a meeting on Friday with distribution platform operators (DPOs) where it was informed that almost all cable consumers have either made their channel preferences or moved to ‘best fit plan’ under the new tariff regime.

The meeting was attended by multi-system operators (MSO) and all major DTH players to review the progress of migration of TV viewers under the new framework.

"According to inputs received by the regulator from players, in the case of DTH services, about 43 per cent customers have made their channel preferences known. When combined with statistics for ‘best fit plan’, this number rises to 57 per cent," stated TRAI secretary SK Gupta.

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