In-depth: Niche broadcasters puzzle BARC with fine cuts

As competition gets fierce in the broadcast industry, no channel wants to lose the battle of perception. Channels, especially in the English genre, cry foul over the authenticity of BARC data and shoot five to seven complaints a day. finds if broadcasters have a genuine complaint or it is a case of sour grapes

Raushni Bhagia
New Update
In-depth: Niche broadcasters puzzle BARC with fine cuts

As the number of complaints from broadcasters on the authenticity of BARC weekly viewership data mounts, the industry leaders have called for the use of four to six week rolling average data instead of weekly numbers for a better analysis of viewership trends of niche genres.

The English broadcasters, especially in the news genre, have been crying foul over the credibility of the BARC weekly data as everyone claims to be in the battle for the top channel’s slot. BARC India received close to 400 complaints in the two months of September and October 2017, an average of five to seven complaints in a day.

According to statistics available on its website, BARC resolved about 87 per cent of these queries. The rest 13 per cent will require BARC India to burn the midnight oil.

Experts claim that weekly numbers don't give a clear picture and are likely to have certain errors, especially for English genre channels, as the sample in the defined viewership categories is too small and going into micro details and finer cuts serve no purpose.

The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India was established in 2015 by the industry stakeholders together to release TV viewership measurement data. While all research agencies have to face a certain amount of criticism from the players, who seem to be on the losing side of the data, the complaints at BARC India’s desk seem to increasing like never before.

BestMediaInfo analysed the reason for the rising numbers of complaints and spoke to industry leaders on what could be the solution.

Decoding the complaints

Most of these complaints are filed by television broadcasters that operate English channels apart from general entertainment, movies, lifestyle and news. The English genre, as compared to the Hindi language channels, has a smaller set of audience and a narrower reach. With lower reach, the representation in the sample is also lesser, as compared to the Hindi genres. As the analysis of viewership increases and the broadcasters go on making finer cuts to the data, the instability of numbers in the English genre obviously increases.

Vikas Khanchandani

Explaining the problem that the English genre faces with data, Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic TV, said, “With regards to the English news, we have seen the genre grow as the English audiences expand with the upward mobility of Indian household and the growth in disposable income. This growth is coming from all across India and not just metros.”

Based on the widely accepted TGs for various genres, BARC India started putting out specific data for that specific genre on the public forum, considering that the trading of a particular genre happens on a particular TG.

Shashi Sinha

Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands and Chairman, Technical Committee, BARC India, said, “Advertisers only look at four weeks or six weeks average. But ours is a battle of perception. Everyone wants to be number one and it’s more of a perception game they are playing than what happens in buying and selling.”

The issue gets further complicated when channels slice and dice and look at extremely narrow cuts and levels at which BARC India has suggested that relative errors are extremely high. In fact, BARC has specified guidelines for data usage, titled Fair Usage Guidelines’, which talks about not to look at narrow cuts, instead to see long-term trends. Cutting data into thinner slices increases the ‘relative error’, and at some point, the data loses its relevance and becomes meaningless. This is not something unique to TV viewership data in India, but applies to all sample surveys and all geographies around the world.

Explaining the core problem behind these increasing complaints, Sinha said, “On the mass channels like GECs or Hindi movie channels – the wide-reach channels – the ratings are stable and normally complaints don’t come from there. Complaints come from English genres where sample is very small. The error levels are high due to small cuts. Actually, the system is designed for certain error levels, and if you overturn on a weekly basis, their error levels increase.”

There was a time when there were discussions about the possibility of releasing monthly data for these channels. Sinha added, “At one point, we had talked about reporting the data on a monthly basis for these channels. But the industry refused to come to a consensus on this and nobody supported it.”

Ignoring the guidelines, many channels look at single week data, instead of a longer duration average and on minor cuts on TG.

Such cuts are also useless for the business, as advertisers never look at such minute details on data. Almost all the trading on the English genres happens on a four-week rolling average or a six-week rolling average numbers.

Khanchandani explained how advertisers take it, “Advertiser and agency partners are well aware of the audiences they want to reach and the strength of the respective platforms and are not perturbed by what is sent by the channels irrespective the way some of the channels would slice it.”

Whenever the broadcasters observe that this minute data details are not up to their expectations, the only way is to write a complaint letter to BARC India, the agency that is responsible for this data. While it is fair and valid to approach BARC for any queries related to data, the question is also about how necessary these queries are. Also, the sheer number of complaints received by BARC India proves the magnitude at which minor slicing and dicing of data happens.

Another reason for the increase in the number of complaints is an unsaid competition between the broadcasters. A broadcaster from the English genres told BestMediaInfo, on condition of anonymity, “We have a separate team at our office whose mandate is to check data as it comes every Thursday and find out glitches that can be reported to BARC India. This is triggered by the competing channels raising complaints and the whole fight of getting more complaints lodged, than the competition.”

Another broadcaster said the visibility in the eyes of government bodies and agencies like the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is also an important reason. BARC reports the complaints received and the broadcasters who are expressing discontent over the data on its website. In a race to be visibly unsatisfied with all of this, the broadcasters try to increase the number of complaints that have been sent to BARC India.

“While almost all broadcasters, including us, try to put the blame of deviating viewership on BARC, the fact is that many other factors play a role in it. For example, if a channel is available on a landing page of a big MSO in a certain market, the viewership spikes in that pocket. As soon as the deal with the MSO ends, the viewership sees a sharp decline, because it is possible that not all viewers intend to watch that particular channel, but still watch it by accident,” added the broadcaster.

Though the dual LCN issue has been largely wiped out because of TRAI’s intervention, the landing page is still a major player in the market – that is in the middle of the argument about being ethical or not.

Way forward

At the end of all of this, what is the way forward and what is the solution to decrease the number of complaints? Sinha answered, “The BARC guidelines are followed sometimes. But the big issue is that we ourselves should restrain reporting of data. I am a firm believer of going 30-day data or four-week rolling over averages. That is the fundamental we should follow. There may be issues in selling from perception management point of view, which I appreciate and understand. But from purely a research standpoint, four-week rolling average is the only option.”

Well, even if all of the fight is about perception and impressions, does the advertiser get swayed by this messaging done by the broadcasters?

Sinha is unsure, but he explained, “I don’t know if it sways the advertisers. It sways the common man. And finally news channels have a larger constituency. So there is weekly data on different cuts, on different time bands, on different cuts, it's so unstable!”

In-depth Niche broadcasters puzzle BARC with fine cuts