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LCN issue: Viacom18's Sudhanshu Vats lauds TRAI, validates trust in BARC

MUMBAI: Industry observers were quite puzzled as to why India's TV viewership monitoring agency - Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) - kept relatively mum during the entire multiple-LCN- placement-generating-unnatural-ratings fight between the English news channels and debutant the Arnab Goswami backed Republic TV. A couple of the English news channels went to court, hauled BARC, Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) and the newcomer before the judge, and even stripped their signals of the viewership monitoring audio watermark.

Each of them sent out a flurry of private messages to all and sundry, stating their point. BARC sent out only one official statement, during the entire spat.

Was it shirking its responsibility?

"No," stated BARC executives in private conversation. "Our job is to simply monitor television viewing and report honestly with what we have. No matter what each player does on the distribution front. The regulator has to take action."

And the regulator TRAI did take action a few days ago by sending out a note warning distribution platforms against going the multiple LCN way for any channel, and ensuring that genre placement is adhered to.

The move has drawn plaudits from BARC chairman Sudhanshu Vats (he is also the vice-president of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation and Group CEO of Viacom 18).

“The recent note from TRAI on the LCN issue (titled ‘Listing of TV Channels on Electronic Programme Guide) is a welcome step in the right direction," says Vats. "It provides all market players with much-needed clarity and clearly spells out the regulator’s view on the issue. Once again TRAI has taken the ‘consumer lens’ and ensured that she remains at the center of the discourse."

The BARC chairman further says: "As the dust settles on the matter, three key truths have been proven. The first pertains to BARC and its methods to measure what India watches. In that context, it is safe to say that watermarking is a modern, robust technology that has held the industry in good stead. In record time, BARC has earned a fair share of its currency of trust and all its stakeholders are committed to its mission, including the IBF which backs it in entirety. To be frank, it was wrong to drag BARC into the issue in the first place. The second truth requires us to introspect as an industry.

It is unfortunate that some members have taken issue with the use of multiple LCNs when many have themselves set the precedent for it – either as a promotional or as a defensive tactic. While this should now abate given the recent direction from TRAI, moving forward, all market players must create consensus internally rather than squander away the valuable time of the courts."

He further cautions that the industry should work together to ensure that its shared credibility should not be dented, especially by the players' own actions. He further explained that the multiscreen future is going to bring up its own challenges and everyone needs to prepare for it.

"Total Audience Measurement’ (i.e. measurement of content consumption across devices including handheld, desktop, TV etc.) will become the norm. In such an environment, all content players will look at innovative ways to increase their reach and sampling while focusing on delivering winning content. This is the new normal that we all need to prepare for, " says Vats. "I’ve always thought of our industry as a large family with members who often quarrel but eventually come together. This time will be no different.”

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