Television

BARC India to TRAI and MIB: Tweak legislation to make data tamper-proof

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NEW DELHI: India’s audience measurement company BARC India has urged broadcast regulator TRAI and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to bring in legislations making TV viewership data tamper-proof and stipulate stringent penalties for offenders.

“Provisions need to be added in relevant regulations to not only dis-incentivize `viewership malpractices’ but also allow for punitive action against those indulging in such activities,” Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC India) has said.

In addition, it has also suggested the government and regulator to explore whether digital set-top-boxes and smart TV sets could be mandated by law to be made return path data (RPD)-enabled, moves that could enhance data robustness.

BARC India is of the opinion that guidelines for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels, issued by MIB, could be “suitably amended to recognize and codify” efforts by TV channels to infiltrate or tamper with data collection processes.

“A limited number of unscrupulous elements exist in the sector (a carryover from the past) who seek to infiltrate security of BARC India’s sample (panel homes), and unfairly influence their viewership habits. Their goal (and business) is to skew final viewership data in favour of some channels, using unfair means that BARC India defines as `viewership malpractice’,” the measurement body, a joint venture amongst IBF, AAAI and AISA, has said, highlighting it was grappling with legacy issues.

Over the last 12 months several instances have come to light where TV channels were found to be allegedly attempting to tamper and influence audience data and indulging in other malpractices to boost viewership or TV ratings points, as it’s popularly described in India. In some cases, BARC India undertook counter-measures resulting in alleged offenders taking legal recourse. In some other instances, the regulator had to issue warnings in an effort to do damage control.

“In terms of specifics, MIB’s channel licensing norms can stipulate that any broadcaster found to be indulging in unfair means to influence its viewership through acts of viewership malpractice can face... actions,” BARC India has suggested in its submission to TRAI’s consultation paper on `Ease of Doing Business in Broadcasting Sector’, adding a “fair system that evaluates complaints and adjudicates on them may also be included” in the regulations.

Amongst the moves that the government and sector regulator could take, as suggested by BARC India, include measures like errant company facing viewership data blackout for a limited period, telecast ban for a limited period and revoking of license depending on the seriousness of the offense. “A regulatory framework that helps prevent distortions and fraudulent activities in the eco-system would be highly desirable, and valuable to all sections of the industry,” it has said in its submission.

Why is BARC India pushing for legislative protection?  Pointing out that “incorrect, false and misleading audience ratings can lead to incorrect content decisions”, the measurement organization said, “There are no sections in IPC with reference to which BARC India can file police complaint and this emboldens those involved in such (fraudulent) activities.”

In addition to seeking legal protection for data generation process, BARC India has also highlighted to TRAI the technological steps that can be taken --- and is being explored by it.

Use of return path data to complement the present TV currency is one such option. RPD involves capturing TV viewing data of homes with addressable set-top-boxes (DTH and digital cable) by enabling “return path” flow of data. “Once enabled, this would allow capture of TV viewership data from several lakh homes, as opposed to the 50,000 sample mandated at present. Additionally, this larger sample would allow more accurate capture of viewership of niche audiences and genres/channels with small viewing base (such as regional language channels and genres like infotainment, etc.),” BARC India has said.

However, there’s a slight hitch. In the absence of technical standards presently, a large number of STBs in India is not enabled for RPD owing to inadequacies in hardware and software systems.

BARC India, which is presently in discussions with some DTH and digital cable service providers for return path data collation, has submitted that mandating manufacture and sale of RPD-enabled STBs in India would go a long way in further improving TV viewership measurement system in the country.

In this context, the organization has also urged TRAI to examine whether RPD-enabled smart TV sets could be mandated in India considering their rising sales as such a move could further add to the robustness in data collection.

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