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Commentary: Has TRAI failed India's broadcast industry?

Why is TRAI getting into the internal working and operating issues of an autonomous industry body such as BARC India to divert people’s attention from its mishandling of the implementation of the tariff order and to show the industry that everything is smooth and unaffected?

What if the government was to run a train full of passengers on a rail track that was still under construction? It would be such a train wreck.

The Telecom regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may be responsible for a train wreck of similar proportions for India's broadcast industry by implementing the new tariff order, which is said to be biggest disruption in India's broadcast industry — comparable to what demonetisation was for India's economy.

Due to the new order, which claims to empower the viewer by giving him the option of paying only for those channels which he wishes to watch, the already stressed broadcasters are losing viewers. The viewers too are baffled why their channel plans have changed and the distribution industry is clueless on handling of the entire situation.

It is not that TRAI was actually prepared with the entire mechanism to implement the new tariff order else it would not have extended every deadline. Now the new regime is likely to be fully implemented only after general elections because of political consequences.

While the authority had almost no control over LCOs that are still not ready to implement the new tariff order and waiting for further extensions, the subscribers’ reporting mechanism for transparency, which was at the centre of entire new regime, wasn’t thought of or worked upon.

That essentially means the reporting of viewership data will continue to happen on excel sheets and stakeholders will have to buy the numbers shared by operators.

What is the purpose of the entire exercise if the reporting of data was to remain the same?

Now instead of looking at the larger picture and fixing the bugs in the implementation of the new regime, TRAI is reported to be worried about unnecessary things such as why BARC India, which is already publishing the data for its subscribers, has stopped publishing it on its website.

Let's hope the authority, which seems to be clueless till now, is aware that the data published on BARC’s website is only top line and is of no use for the industry.

If that’s the case, is TRAI getting into internal working and operating issues of an autonomous industry body like BARC India to divert people’s attention from its mishandling of the implementation and to show everything is smooth and unaffected? Is the authority doing this to satisfy some egos only as it seems to have failed the industry on many counts?

These counts include the authority’s failure to address larger issues of the interest of the broadcast industry, which is struggling for a credible measurement for radio and digital mediums for so long.

More specifically, why is TRAI not intervening in larger issues of rolling out BARC India’s proposed digital measurement system Ekam, which is being delayed by different stakeholders for their vested interests? Why is the authority moving slowly on radio audience measurement despite proposing one on the lines of BARC? had written three articles investigating the reasons stalling the progress of Ekam and its future — ‘Ekam stuck — is ISA hand in glove with Google and Nielsen?’ ‘How blocking Ekam will be a self-goal for Google’, ‘ISA not getting all advertisers on board on Ekam to have a wide-ranging impact’ and Why is Google shying away from giving access for content measurement to Ekam?

If TRAI was seriously willing to help the broadcast industry grow in an organic manner, it would have acted on these issues rather than getting into the internal working of BARC India.

In the meantime, after receiving about three letters from different officers of TRAI, a BARC India spokesperson released a statement explaining why it was not publishing the data online. The body in its statement said, “To set the record straight, BARC India has not stopped publishing its viewership data. Every week, at 11 am sharp, all our subscribers have been getting all India weekly data without a hitch for the last 175 weeks, including the last two weeks that correspond to the NTO transition.

 “However, we have published data of the last two weeks with the caveat that there are changes taking place on the ground due to the NTO rollout because of which viewership numbers will be volatile during the transition period. The India Society of Advertisers (ISA) too has advised its members that our data should not be used for media planning and buying in the transition period.

“We also publish a limited amount of data on our website — intended only for larger benefit and information of trade and media. We temporarily held back release of this select headline data on our website. We did this purely to avoid mis-representation of such data (Top 5 channels/programmes, etc.) without looking at the larger context of NTO rollout and resulting volatility, which could be misleading, lead to confusion and be counter-productive.

“Our position is also aligned to Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Guidelines that govern us. The guidelines clearly say that ‘…data generated by the rating agency be made available, on paid basis, to all interested stakeholders…’. And ‘Sharing of the data/reports with a third party or in public domain be allowed subject to the fair usage policy of the rating agency. Such fair usage policy shall be provided on the website of the rating agency’.

“TRAI has advised us that we should also consider resuming the display of top channels and programmes data on our website. We are taking a considered view on that post consultation with our stakeholders.”

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