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TRAI directs BARC to publish TV viewership data on website immediately

BARC is releasing weekly data only to its subscribers at the moment.

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MUMBAI:  Industry watchdog and regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is cracking the whip on TV ratings monitoring body - Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). In a sternly worded letter, TRAI has asked BARC to publish ratings and TV viewership data for the week ending 8 February with immediate effect. TRAI’s directive has come in the wake of the latter's decision to release the weekly data only to its subscribers as opposed to publishing it on the website.

BARC had cited implementation of the new tariff order as the reason for it not sticking to the norm.

According to a report by news agency Press Trust of India, the sector regulator has asked BARC to furnish compliance by 25 February 2019, "failing which, appropriate action would be initiated" under relevant sections of the TRAI Act.

"BARC India has modified its Fair and Permissible Usage Policy in February 14, 2019, even after being repeatedly asked by the authority to not stop publishing of rating data and viewership data on its website during the migration to new regulatory framework until and unless explicitly permitted by the authority and are thus, in contravention of the direction of the authority dated December 21, 2018 and January 14, 2019," the TRAI directive read.

According to TRAI, BARC has ignored its previous directives of publishing ratings and viewership data for television channels. The regulator said that the audience measurement company had argued that disruption due to migration to a new regulatory framework could prevent consumers from gaining access to channels of their choice, thereby running the risk of an inaccurate portrayal of TV consumption trends in the country.

Industry sources have told Indiantelevision.com that it was, in fact, the broadcasters who were not keen on the weekly data being published on the BARC website. With fluctuations expected during the tariff order implementation, broadcasters were skeptical about how the weekly data would impact their channels and popular shows especially from a public perception point of view.

TRAI, however, is opposed to the idea of not publishing the data, which, it feels, is a true reflection of the market changes. BARC’s decision to "withhold" the data is not justified, the regulator pointed out.

TRAI also highlighted that BARC "failed to furnish any cogent reason for not publishing the rating and viewership data" and that "such action on part of BARC India reflects poorly on the creditworthiness of the data published by them."

"Now...the authority...hereby directs Broadcast Audience Research Council to immediately release and publish viewership data for the week ending February 8, 2019 and weeks subsequent to it, on its website without any further delay and not to stop it in future also without explicit instruction/direction from the authority or Ministry of Information and Broadcasting...," said the TRAI directive.

BARC was setup  as an industry-funded body following the drawing up of guidelines for TV monitoring agencies by TRAI and the I&B ministry and is requires registration with the latter.

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.

Earlier, 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.

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