In TRAI-BARC India stand-off, flashes of regulatory overreach

TRAI recently sent a show-cause notice to BARC India

MUMBAI: One of the most intriguing side acts during the implementation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) new tariff order has been the sector regulator's face-off with TV audience measurement firm BARC. The latest flashpoint in this impasse involved TRAI issuing a show-cause notice to BARC.

At the core of this issue is TRAI’s insistence on BARC publishing its weekly findings on its website and the latter's sustained inaction on that front.

While BARC continues to supply data to advertisers, broadcasters and agencies, it has stopped publishing weekly ratings of shows and channels on its website due to vagaries linked to the rollout of the new regulatory framework for the broadcast sector. 

The decision was taken after due and appropriate deliberations to protect the interest of trade, subscribers and consumers, BARC had said.

TRAI’s argument, however, is that data at any given point in time reflects ground realities and there’s no valid reason for not putting it out in the public domain. TRAI, according to sources, believes consumers will use the ratings on the BARC website to make channel selection.

With this stand-off now stretching into its third month, it’s important to understand what really is at centre of this controversy. Is TRAI right in directing BARC to publish the data or is the TV ratings agency justified in taking the position it has on the issue?

To answer these questions, one must look at what BARC and TRAI have been entrusted to do as industry watchdog and TV audience measurement body respectively 

Like any regulator, TRAI’s mandate is to devise and implement policies factoring in market realities for growth of the sectors it oversees. Ensuring free and fair regulation that is pro-consumer and aimed at sending positive signals to the investment community should be hallmarks of any policy it conceives. The new tariff order and consultation paper on improving BARC’s measurement system are two fine examples of responsible regulatory behaviour. These initiatives are aimed at benefiting consumers and growth of the TV broadcasting and distribution business at large.

Encroaching into the operational domain of an independent and self-regulatory body, or even privately held entities for that matter, is a measure any regulator should try and avoid. Therefore issuing multiple directives and a show-cause notice to BARC could be categorised as a regulatory misstep by TRAI.

BARC is a joint industry body founded by stakeholder bodies that represent broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies.

Its job is to own and manage a transparent, accurate, and inclusive TV audience measurement system. It is mandated to ensure efficient media spends and content decisions in a highly dynamic and growing television sector. Hence, publishing weekly web data (for non-subscribers) isn’t actually a deviation from its standard operating procedures or a move away from conducting business as usual.

In fact, publishing ratings on the website found no mention in the Amit Mitra committee’s recommendations, endorsed by TRAI post consultations with the industry, to form joint industry body (BARC) in 2013. These guidelines were then notified by the MIB in 2014, resulting in the formation of BARC.

BARC India had registered itself with the MIB and was to conduct its operations on a self-regulatory model. Applying this fundamental tenet to the current scenario, BARC is well within its rights to not publish the weekly data on its website as long as it continues to service its subscribers.

Based on evidence in the public domain, BARC neither seems to have flouted any norms nor hampered the seamless functioning of the broadcast or advertising sector in any manner. In short, BARC not publishing its weekly data on its website, pre or post the tariff order implementation, bears no impact on the operations of industry stakeholders. TAM, BARC’s predecessor for 15 years, too, did not follow the practice of publishing web data.

Prima facie, BARC’s stance on the matter cannot be termed as a violation of the guidelines and/or the TRAI Act as the former does not come under the purview of the said act.

BARC is yet to confirm the date from when it intends to publish the weekly data. In both its statements so far, the company has cited reasons behind applying restrictions to public consumption of its data without offering a clarification as to how it intends to tackle the regulator’s constant questions.

It now remains to be seen what approach both parties adopt in breaking this deadlock. With both sides not backing off at the moment, the matter could soon take a serious legal turn.

Latest Reads
TRAI tariff order impacted uptake of niche channels: KPMG

Even as TRAI is mulling over changes to its existing tariff order, a report by KPMG, India’s Digital Future, highlighted that niche channels were affected especially due to lesser focus on such channels in broadcaster packs.

Regulators TRAI
TRAI tweaking new tariff order could trigger turmoil in broadcasting sector

The latest consultation paper (CP) from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has created quite a stir in India’s broadcasting sector. Titled ‘Tariff-related issues for broadcasting and cable services’, the CP is essentially an admission from the regulator that its new tariff order (NTO...

Regulators TRAI
Broadcasters raise concern over TRAI consultation paper to review channel pricing

MUMBAI: The recent decision by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to review the issues of pricing of channels has brought about concern among broadcasters, according to a report by IANS. Broadcasters fear that the new approach, barely eight months into the new tariff regime, will only...

Regulators TRAI
Broadcasters, DPOs misused new tariff order to throttle market discovery of channel prices: TRAI

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Friday issued a consultation paper on tariff related issues for Broadcasting and Cable services.

Regulators TRAI
TRAI intensifies efforts to overhaul TV audience measurement & ratings system

Stepping up efforts to improve India's television audience measurement and ratings system, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last week invited sealed limited tenders for organising a Hackathon. Hackerearth, Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Persistent Systems Ltd and...

Regulators TRAI
TRAI issues draft regulation to facilitate consumer choice of TV channels using API

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Friday issued the draft (Second Amendment) to the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Standards of Quality of Service and Consumer Protection (Addressable Systems) Regulations 2017.

Regulators TRAI
SC denies stay on TRAI's appeal against TDSAT's landing page order

MUMBAI: While Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Thursday filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order on landing pages, the apex court has denied any stay on the order on Friday. The matter has been listed for next...

Regulators Supreme Court
Karnataka High Court rejects plea to regulate online content under Cinematograph Act

The films, serials and other multimedia contents transmitted, broadcast or exhibited through internet platforms an donline streaming platforms like Hotstar, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Alt Digital, cannot be regulated under the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

Regulators High Court
TRAI files appeal against TDSAT’s landing page judgment in Supreme Court

In a move that can have far-reaching implications for India's broadcasting sector, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Thursday filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order on landing pages. A bench headed by HMJ Arun...

Regulators TRAI

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories