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Fidelity and instability are two sides of the same coin. The industry is getting used to data fidelity: Partho Dasgupta, CEO of BARC

A year of BARC, end of TAM, controversy on data instability and preparations for digital mapping… it has been a huge ride for BARC India. BestMediaInfo catches up with the CEO of the measurement agency to know more

Raushni Bhagia | Mumbai | June 8, 2016

Partho-Dasgupta Partho Dasgupta

When it made public the Rural data for Hindi GECs, Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) raised quite a few eyebrows. There were and are mixed reactions about the instability of the rural data that started rolling out in October last year.

On the other hand, BARC also got appreciation for completing a year of operations and having released a total of 56 consecutive weeks of Impressions. The measurement agency has grown from mapping 277 channels to almost double that with 520 channels now, taking into consideration all the language feeds. The subscriber base too has gone up to over 3,000 as of June 2016.

BestMediaInfo caught up with Partho Dasgupta, Chief Executive Officer, BARC India, to understand the nuances of Rural data, the journey of the company, and the future of mapping digital. Excerpts:

 

Though BARC is a year old, the team is older. How has it been since 2013?

We went through our own learning, the biggest thing being that we picked a great team and none of them knew the business and hence were able to get unique solutions in terms of costs and technology, along with other things. We had our own challenges right from the ecosystem to finances to everything, which we solved one by one. It was a tremendous roller coaster ride, an enjoyable one where the best part was that all the industry stakeholders were with us.

So, how has BARC’s one-year joyride been?

It was never a joy ride! It’s been a roller coaster ride. The joy part was that of working in a start-up again. We had a lot of naysayers all around when we started, with people in Indian industry and abroad being fairly confident that BARC India will never take off. Overcoming the challenges and delivering what the industry expected from us has made the journey exhilarating.

What was your first reaction when the offer of CEO came up?

I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning to be very honest, but after meeting the board members, especially Punit Goenka and Shashi Sinha, I think I started developing confidence. I was earlier not sure that it really needs anyone of my background to go ahead with this.

You have had a varied experience through broadcast, marketing and digital. How has that played a role in your BARC stint?

That has helped, undoubtedly. I have spent time on both broadcaster and marketer side. I have seen media for a reasonable amount of time though not as much as my peers. But the varied experiences taught me a lot and are helping me now.

Has there been a conscious effort to avoid going the TAM way?

Systematically, yes, there were a lot of them, the biggest being transparency. As long as you don’t ask me the data about the homes, I am completely transparent. We are a JIC (joint industry company) and so all stakeholders representatives are part of our board and Technical Committee who take all critical decisions jointly. We have ensured a lot of checks and balances.

Even before we launched, we kept interacting with the stakeholders, calling for feedback and incorporating the same in the system. Through roadshows and newsletters, we always kept subscribers in the loop of all developments. We also publish reports on a weekly basis, like heads-up and Alpha Club to give insights on TV viewership to stakeholders.

Any major milestones you would like to mention?

There are many. To just mention a few, I would say that being able to live up to the expectations of our stakeholders has been the biggest one. The others include releasing data in record time of two years at a fraction of cost of global benchmarks; increasing the size of panel homes for measurement of television viewership in the country; launch of all-India ratings, including Rural, in October 2015; being able to show the fidelity in ratings for programming and external interventions and causes; completion of BARC India and TAM JV; formation of meter management company, MDL, and starting work on split beam and digital measurement.

BARC India recently split the viewership of Hindi GECs and programmes on Urban and Rural basis. What does that mean for the industry?

There seems to be some confusion regarding this. From the day we released all-India data in October last year, the BARC India Media Workstation (BMW) software allowed our subscribers – broadcasters, agencies and advertisers – to do the Urban and Rural split. In fact, it allows many more splits. This helped broadcasters devise their content strategy and agencies to buy and sell.

We release the rankings of a select few genres through Twitter and our website. We decided to do this for larger awareness and for media houses to know the real picture. This was also done to ensure that media houses do not give out their version of data, which would have caused confusion, like it was earlier.

The Urban-Rural split of Hindi GECs and programmes that we started posting on our website and Twitter handle starting Week 18 was always available to our subscribers. This is just for the benefit of publications and non-subscribers of BARC India data. Our subscribers always had access to it and were using it. Nothing changes for them.

Is rural data making everyone happy? Will rural numbers take more time to settle since the samples in some states are still quite low?

I don't know how people can gauge the instability when there was no data available prior to this. People have never seen rural data. I would have still bought it if they would have compared the urban data and said this, since there was at least a frame of reference (which again is not comparable), but for rural it is a surprise that instability can be seen. So I have a question: how do they map instability?

The Rural data has helped broadcasters know that it is not just urban India that is driving viewership. For example, the fact that 43 per cent of English content viewership and close to 39 per cent viewership for infotainment genre comes from rural India is a surprise. These insights help the broadcasters and advertisers to look at a different TG, beyond mega cities or cities falling in 1 lakh+.

With Rural data, advertisers can now do more targeted advertising. So far media spend in rural India was unaccounted for. With the introduction of Rural data, we have been able to meet this need gap.

As for settling of rural ratings is concerned, 30 per cent of our total panel homes are in rural India. Considering rural India is more homogeneous than urban India, a lower sample home base can also give a better insight into TV viewership habits.

BARC is the largest TV audience measurement system in the world with 20,000 barometers. What are the challenges and advantages?

Challenges are building consensus among stakeholders and the sheer amount of work needed on ground given the size and breadth of the country.

Advantages are greater accuracy in data reported, less relative error in TV viewership, and we get to see what India watches.

It is said that the diversification of Indian audience through the length and breadth of the country is difficult to map. What is your view? How many meters will ideally be 'perfect' for such a wide range of audience?

India is a large heterogeneous country. This is managed through a sampling study which is picked up by stratified random sampling method. This gives us the best possible panel home combination to get the accurate viewership data with low relative error.

We are a joint industry company and therefore our number of meters is also dictated by industry’s appetite for data vis-à-vis capacity to spend on data gathering. We feel that at this stage, our sample size is adequate to meet those twin considerations.

Heterogeneity of audience is hard to find. Very few countries will say that a programme is seen by about 200 million people. It is because of the sheer size of the country and not to forget that there is a lot of headroom to grow.

The industry is talking about instability of the BARC data. How do you react to this?

We do not see it as instability. The industry, so far, wasn’t used to data fidelity. Our data shows the fluctuations in TV viewership caused due to content change or any event or external stimuli like power cuts, natural calamity, etc. Fidelity and instability are two sides of the same coin.

There is growing understanding towards this trend now. News channels should see a sea change in viewership when it comes to election day coverage. If the data cannot show that change, then there is a problem, and not if it can track the change in viewership trend. The industry is getting used to data fidelity and is happy with our data.

What kind of funding and revenue figures is BARC attracting right now? How much do you expect these to grow in, say, next one year?

Due to the unique model we adopted, we were able to get funding going without any member shelling out cash. We managed to raise Rs 180 crore from banks with our unique financing model.

Any specific learning to take home you have experienced in the last one year?

A motivated team can move mountains. When we rolled out the data in April 2015, the strength of the company was less than 40. To the credit of the team, they pulled off this gigantic task. We have now expanded the strength to more than 100 to cater to market demands and it will grow further with the integration of TAM teams.

The past can’t predict future; time and again we have seen this – whether it is movies, news events, twists in fiction stories or even power cuts or floods. Viewer habits are dynamic and we can’t see the past and expect the future. Lastly, we know that it is important to keep talking to the stakeholders and get feedback.

How far have we reached on digital mapping?

It is a challenge across the world as it’s still in evolution phase. There are some countries that have recently started rolling out cross-platform data for TV and Web but they are again not including Mobile. In India, it is useless if it is without Mobile. We are trying to find a way how we can do it completely. We intend to take out one single figure of viewership for say ‘A’ property on TV, Web and Mobile. I don’t want to give any timeframe on this. We want to learn from the successes and failures of the world. Even if it is late, we want to put out something as grounded as we have done for the TV data. We know a lot of part of the technology but we don’t want to rush to make mistakes.

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