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Return-Path-Data: Is it BARC India’s next big bet?

RPD is being used across the globe, including UK, US, Canada, South East Asia. But nowhere it is a part of the currency and BARC India is aiming precisely at that

The accuracy of television viewership measurement system in India has long been debated though it earned a decent amount of credibility after BARC India came into existence. 

However, even with a sample size of 30,000 bar-o-meters– effectively four times more than its predecessor TAM–the data it throws up is still vague, offering a huge scope of knowing much more about the television consumption habits of consumers.

Working on the loopholes, BARC India is already trying to make TV viewership data tamper-proof and has entered into a deal with DEN Networks to extract the return path data (RPD).

RPD is being used by distribution players to study consumer behaviour across the globe, including UK, US, Canada, South East Asia. But nowhere it is a part of the viewership measurement currency and BARC India is aiming precisely at that.

RPD involves capturing TV viewing data of homes with addressable set-top boxes (DTH and digital cable) by enabling “return path” flow of data.

The audience measurement agency, which is looking at partnering with more cable and DTH operators for RPD, believes that this approach will allow expansion of panel households somewhere between 150,000-200,000 from the existing 30,000. This mechanism of data collection and viewership measurement will have multi-fold benefits and a few challenges too.


Since the viewer is not conscious about the collection of data here, its manipulation reduces to a large extent. The accuracy of data increases because the sample size increases exponentially. So once BARC has decided to pull data from a certain platform owner, say DEN, the measurement agency will be able to increase its sample significantly.

Industry observers believe that BARC is targeting to take the size of its panel homes to 200,000 by partnering only three to four distribution platforms, which means the rating agency is aiming to add 40,000-50,000 panel homes with every such partnership.

This larger sample would allow more accurate capture of viewership of niche channels.

In addition, the cost of seeding bar-o-meters is much higher than that of the RPD hardware required in the STBs, making RPD a more cost-efficient method.

Harit Nagpal, MD and CEO, Tata Sky, said, “It’s a good thing. Set-top boxes are ready to use for RPD. It’s just that one has to connect them to the internet and make them equipped.”

This means that turning the STB into a bar-o-meter will take only an internet dongle/device to be attached with it.

With bar-o-meters, the viewer has to press buttons and change the viewer data through the alternative remote.

However, with RPD it would be convenient for the users (viewers) who will not have to keep pressing the buttons on the alternate bar-o-meter remote.

RPD mechanism will also help in resolving the issue of panel home tampering.

Implementing RPD at a larger scale a challenge?

RPD will lead to data robustness. However, the primary challenge is that not all DPOs are willing to implement it.

A senior media observer said, “Once transparency increases, the platform owners will be forced to optimise plans and services for the customers. This will mean that the more things get documented, more value plans for consumers have to be introduced. More than the infrastructural issues, it’s a change in mindset of platform owners that is needed to make that investment and make it a priority.”

The RPD-based data will also help the platform owners (DTH/ MSO) to know and understand the consumption of data and trends region-specific. With this, the platform owners can devise their packaging and offerings to the consumers.

DEN Networks will use this data for subscriber management, packaging opportunities and to drive advertising revenue on their in-house channels.

SN Sharma, CEO, DEN Networks, said the company has realised the relevance of data gathering and analysis and has taken the first step towards world-class data analytics of subscriber viewing patterns. “It will also help us to serve our customers in a far more effective way and enable us to offer personalised services.”

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