Regulators

TRAI’s SK Gupta on Independent TV troubles, BARC overhaul, landing page controversy & tariff order

TRAI held an OHD on Review of Television Audience Measurement and Ratings

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MUMBAI: Top Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) functionaries were in Mumbai on Wednesday for the second leg of the open house discussion (OHD) to review the television audience measurement and ratings system in India. In the audience were industry stakeholders spanning across broadcasters, advertisers, distribution platform operators (DPOs) and BARC representatives among others.

“Ratings have to be unbiased, correct representation of the feelings of the people and should not be impacted by various methodologies being used to influence them,” said TRAI secretary Sunil K Gupta as he set the agenda.

TRAI had received multiple comments and counter-comments from industry to its consultation paper, which featured a list of questions. In order to further deepen the engagement, Gupta recommended three additional topics be taken up for discussion.

“What are the concerns and problems when it comes to return path data with set top boxes? Let us analyse and understand how we can increase the sample size of meters so that influencing data becomes difficult. Secondly, many broadcasters said in the Delhi OHD that data collected through such meters is filtered or manipulated to delete the outliers. They feel that the level of transparency in doing so is not there and in some cases they feel it is one of the tools to manipulate the TRP of a channel. Thirdly, is there any other alternative that can be adopted to make ratings more effective or more representative of viewership?” the secretary asked.

However, despite the officials’ best efforts to initiate a conversation to highlight problems and suggest solutions, those present were rather conservative in their approach, side-stepping critical issues that continue to plague the broadcasting sector from a TV audience measurement standpoint. While regional broadcasters did argue in favour of a more representative sample to take into account multiple socio-cultural regions, major broadcasters failed to approach the discussion with their usual vigour.

From BARC’s perspective, COO Romil Ramgarhia and chairman of its technical committee Shashi Sinha were rather frank and forthright, articulating their respective positions on all issues at hand quite candidly.

In order to gain a better understanding of the regulator's viewpoint, Indiantelevision.com’s Dattaraj Thaly engaged the TRAI secretary in a quick chat on the sidelines of the OHD. 

Edited excerpts follow.

What compelled you to float a consultation paper on review of television audience measurement and ratings in India?

We recommended the formation of an entity to rate the audience measurement for the TV sector and as per that recommendation, MIB came up with guidelines and then BARC was registered. Having said that, (BARC) working for the last three years, we just wanted to see how good the work is being done and there are different concerns of different stakeholders to improve the transparency of BARC rating. So, what are the concerns of stakeholders and how can we improve its functions was our objective.

What are the specific functions you want improved? Is it credibility of the ratings, transparency of the system? What are the benchmarks for improvement?

In fact it includes all the things. It is credibility, accuracy of the system and also to make it broad-based so that any attempt to tamper any information etc., should have minimum impact on rating given by the BARC.

We know what the broadcasters’ concerns with BARC are. Can you tell us what the regulator’s view on the TV audience measurement body is?

TRAI does not have any view of its own. We raise various issues to the stakeholders. We take oral as well as written comments of the stakeholders. We also analyse the international experiences, the issues raised by different people on what needs to be addressed and ultimately firmly take a view what should be done. So, one thing is very clear TRAI does not have its own view.

You’ve now held two open house discussions (Delhi and Mumbai) to review our current TV audience measurement system. Have any key themes emerged from these consultations?

One is that everybody wants BARC to give the ratings that are credible, transparent, not influenced by any of the stakeholders. They also want a broad-based rating pattern, so that chances of getting it influenced by few meters is reduced. Thirdly, they want to improve the transparency of the system.

BARC’s data validation and outlier policy post the TDSAT order on landing pages has created quite a stir in the industry. What’s your view on this issue?

You would have heard BARC clearly stating today that they do not have a method to identify landing page and therefore effectively address the issue.

So, what is the way forward?

You have yourself very clearly pointed out that there is a decision by TDSAT and we will look into it further and see what can be done. Also today you have heard that this is a call to be taken by the industry also.

Are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished in terms of the new tariff order roll-out?

If you look at the preamble of the regulations and the tariff order issues, the objective raised over there were met to a great extent. So, we are satisfied.

Two fundamental issues – consumer choice and transparency - were emphasised on by TRAI during the implementation of the new tariff order. Has the new regime addressed these two tenets?

We have introduced giving the price of each channel in EPG, which has been appreciated by all of the stakeholders. As far as giving choice is concerned, we have checked different platforms and most of the platforms are complying and giving choice. What we have found is that there is a need to educate the consumers. Because consumers from the beginning have been given bouquets. Now awareness has been generated that options have been enabled to choose channels on a-la-carte basis. On this front, I think some more work is required.

Has the broadcasting and cable services landscape settled down post the new tariff order implementation?

The choice of customer is a dynamic situation and it will change from time to time and that is what we precisely feel like. The market will work once the consumer has got the options to exercise and it will depend on many things such as the type of programmes you are showing in your TV channel, the language, the awareness, etc. So, this is working very well on the ground and naturally it will take some time to settle. Saying that it has already settled may not be accurate, but yes it is going in the right direction.

What’s your take on the Independent TV situation?

Independent TV has been very recently given their license for DTH. The matter has been taken up with MIB and with the other enforcement arms of MIB, which is spread in the state and districts. We are looking into that.

Is TRAI committed to light-touch regulation across the broadcasting and distribution sector?

New tariff order is the right example of light-touch regulation (https://www.indiantelevision.com/regulators/trai/broadcasters-split-over...). We have given complete freedom to broadcasters to price their channels. We have given freedom to DPOs to carry out their business and get a certain committed revenue so that quality of the network can be upgraded and quality of the services can be given to the consumers. We are only prescribing the broad architecture and not micro-managing.

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