Playing a role that is very unlike of a regulator's, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has once again footed plans to work against the interests of India's broadcast industry.
After hurting the industry with NTO in 2019, followed by its version 2.0 this year, which has proven to be a futile exercise and has not been implemented so far, the authority’s latest task at hand is to destroy the business interests of the broadcast industry by killing India’s television rating system.
On Tuesday, the telecom regulator issued two dozens of recommendations that are set to completely change the functioning of India’s only and the world’s largest television audience measurement system created and launched exactly five years ago on April 29, 2015, under BARC India, an independent joint industry body formed by broadcasters, advertisers and agencies.
If one were to go through TRAI's recommendations (which would eventually end up being a whip), it appears that everything about BARC, from its formation to its outcome as weekly ratings system, is wrong. And who has drawn this conclusion? A few TRAI officials with no deep understanding of how the rating system works and who think they can correct everything, on the basis of inputs from a few crying broadcasters.
TRAI’s intellect comes from the open house interactions it organises time to time. The stakeholders reply to the consultation papers, from where the authority picks up its actions without considering their far-fetched implications.
After the recommendations were issued on Tuesday, an industry observer commented that TRAI should rather dismantle BARC India, which would be easier than correcting everything about it and go for a fresh ratings system. “It is good to shut down BARC. TRAI’s recommendations are not only totally weird but also not practical,” the observer said.
BARC India in a statement said it will study the recommendations and refrain commenting at this early stage. The three other stakeholders — IBF, AAAI and ISA — also refused to comment on the matter.
When BestMediaInfo.com reached out to BARC India’s former CEO Partho Dasgupta to understand if all was wrong with the system earlier, he said, “Read the old guideline. It is not that there could not be any other rating agency. There may be others as long as they fulfil the guidelines. Why nobody has come up in five years is because it is not financially viable. TRAI is now saying there should be 2-3 data collection agencies. Who and why will there be any data collection agency if it is not a viable business? And what is data collection by the way? Who does it?"
“If you continue making such strong policy changes and huge structural changes in 4-5 years, why will anyone invest? It is very impractical and not thought through well,” Dasgupta added.
The recommendations will have to be approved by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and with Amit Khare returning as Secretary, this exercise is likely to be either dumped or delayed. What TRAI would achieve is that it will be able to make a noise.
However, another industry veteran said Khare will not be able to keep it on hold for a long period of time.
“He will have to either partially or fully implement the recommendations,” the veteran said. “And if the recommendations are implemented completely, BARC will have to shut.”
A representative of a large broadcaster conceded that there were some shortcomings in BARC’s way of functioning. “Particularly, in this case, news channels have been meeting TRAI officials and complaining about almost everything within the BARC’s ecosystem. According to a few smaller news channels, BARC’s charging Rs 15 lakh was also wrong,” the representative told BestMediaInfo.com.
On the recommendations about structural changes of the BARC board, another industry stalwart who actively contributed in the formation of BARC as technical committee member said, “If you will continue to remain on the board for seven years, which is the case for four-five board members of BARC, then someone will question this. So, the news channels questioned why only a few people were on the board?”
“From Day 1, there was a government nominee in the board, who was DD CEO. He would not have attended more than 20% of board meetings. There was a DAVP member in the technical committee of BARC but he did not attend a single meeting. Did TRAI consider these things at all while drafting the recommendations?” he asked.
News channels, which always get united on any action by the government against any channel in the name of freedom of expression, have always invited TRAI and the government to interfere in their business-related matters by knocking the regulator’s door on every occasion to complain about each other, be it multiple LCN, landing page or ratings.
When Partho Dasgupta exited BARC India as its CEO, I wrote how he became a prime target of a few stakeholders in the beginning and a few more joined later in order to make it difficult for him to lead the organisation. The industry today is hinting that TRAI’s latest actions are somewhere connected to that episode as a few broadcasters would have vowed to get BARC India shut through the government and regulator’s interference.