Govt committee seeks to set up a specialised regulator for media ratings in India

The committee’s report was recently shared with BARC and several broadcasters’ associations

Mumbai: The committee on TRP ratings formed by the government has pushed for the formation of multiple rating agencies in competition to Barc India, and recommended creating a specialised regulator to oversee all of them.

The 39-page report submitted by the committee early this year has recently been shared with Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India and other broadcasters to take the discussions forward. The committee led by Prasar Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati was constituted last year in the aftermath of the TRP scam in Mumbai.

According to the report, the regulation of multiple rating agencies should be a specialised function that requires a suitable regulator and cited Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in regulating credit rating agencies and Media Ratings Council in the United States as successful examples. As per the committee, the regulator can look at end-to-end regulation of audience measurement in India and also provide for an Appellate Authority to redress grievances and mediate disputes between stakeholders and rating agencies with appropriate powers.

The committee to review the ‘Guidelines on TV Rating Agencies in India’ had made a total of 20 recommendations to the ministry of information and broadcasting (i&b) that includes both immediate and long-term measures that need to be taken to restore faith in the integrity of TV rating system in view of emerging technology trends and market dynamics.

Most of the recommendations made by the committee in their report accessed by are aimed at strengthening corporate governance at Barc India at the board level. The recommendations have also laid down specific measures to bring independent oversight of Barc India, mandate the use of return-path data, increase the competitiveness in the TV rating space, and put in place a specialised regulatory mechanism for media rating agencies in India.

It felt that industry stakeholders must come to a consensus over acceptable business practices to ensure faith in ratings. It also recommended that the government may consider temporarily suspending its license to Barc India until it and stakeholder bodies have complied with directives issued by MIB.

After consultation with stakeholders such as Barc India, MDPL, Zappr Media, Nielsen India, and Tata Sky AMS, the committee had issued several specific and sweeping recommendations on the technical aspects of TV rating measurement in India.

It found that there was a broad consensus among industry stakeholders in favour of leveraging return data capabilities. However, apart from Barc and a few platforms, there was a lack of ubiquity in approach or consistency in investment in RPD by platforms.

It also recommended that RPD should be made mandatory for set-top-boxes (STBs) deployed by distributed platform operators (DPOs). “The increasing convergence between STBs and smart media devices and in view of the emergence of hybrid boxes capable of both CAS compliant linear TV viewing and internet streaming-based OT, the committee sees fewer technical barriers to enable RPD capabilities within households” it noted.

Adding further, it said, “Smartphone-based apps are capable of interacting with such hybrid boxes paving the way for additional avenues of RPD data capture and relay.”

The collection of viewership data by DPOs is to be governed by privacy norms prescribed by the government/regulator. The sale of such data by DPOs should be governed by guidelines for TV rating systems. A joint industry working group with representation from all relevant stakeholders and independent experts may be set up to specify norms for an industry-wide RPD mandate, according to the report.   

The report noted that crowdsourcing approaches could be economical alternatives to RPD and should be open to rating agencies to enrich panel-based measurement. However, it noted that owing to the nascent stage of innovations in cloud-based computing and artificial intelligence and the small pool of talent and expertise with an understanding of TV ratings and media audience measurement domain in India, any integration of crowdsourced data is best left to the discretion of stakeholders.

Another interesting recommendation by the committee for the imperative is to adopt an open data ecosystem. It drew on the experience of similar data efforts in domains such as digital payments (UPI, India stack) and account aggregator system for credit rating (Sahamati), noting that algorithms and raw datasets should be made available to academics and independent researchers to analyse, validate and enrich.

The committee observed the global shift towards hybrid audience measurement spanning multiple channels (TV+digital) and the rapid technology innovation hastening this shift. It stated that guidelines prescribed by MIB should not be a barrier to the emergence of more efficient business models that are in pace with global trends and local market dynamics.

Led by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, the four-member team also included - IIT Kanpur, professor of statistics, department of mathematics and statistics, Dr Shalabh; C-DOT executive director Dr Rajkumar Upadhyay; Decision Sciences Centre for Public Policy professor Pulak Ghosh.

The television rating system in India had come under scanner in October 2020 when Mumbai Police claimed in a press briefing that they have probed a case of manipulation of TRPs and found some incriminating evidence. The police said the accused were allegedly bribing the households to keep a particular channel running, leading to several arrests. Three news channels, Republic TV, Fakt Marathi, and Box Cinema were named in an alleged TRP tampering scam. BARC had also temporarily suspended the publishing of weekly data for news channels, which remains in limbo till date.

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