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Only competition and better tech can make TRP measurement robust, say experts

During a panel discussion on the TRP scam, former EC and DG Doordarshan Dr SY Quraishi said having a single TV measurement currency leads cartelisation. Vikram Chandra highlighted how the era of TV news was fading and why digital would be a more dependable medium for advertisers

More competition is required in the TV viewership measurement system to make the entire ecosystem much more reliable and fool-proof, said Dr SY Quraishi, former election commissioner and Director General of Doordarshan.

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Speaking during a panel discussion on the TRP scam, he said the ‘people meter’ is at the heart of the fraud and suggested qualitative analysis and competition as a solution.

“During my stint as the Director General of Doordarshan in 2002-03 we were also victims of a TRP scam. We had installed a people meter in the Doordarshan office to investigate it and we understood some key issues. Firstly, getting a people meter installed involved screwing it into the television box. Nobody would volunteer for it as it would mean losing your warranty. Further, the participants had to press buttons to register their viewership. Now who would want to do this every day for national interest? They claim that they cover all socio-economic categories. But the truth is only the poor would be willing to do it as they would be paid for it. So eventually it is all a fraud.”

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“The advertisers need some figures to go by. So they can conduct surveys and do a qualitative analysis to understand the audience. In the interim we need to restart competition. Let four companies measure TRPs in every city. Then you can aggregate it or let the advertisers decide who they would like to trust. ‘Single currency’ has only lead to cartelisation and monopoly in this,” he said.

Digital offers a transparent solution for advertisers

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Digital news should not solely be relying on algorithms but should have human editors to choose video news content for viewers, said Vikram Chandra, Founder of Editorji. “We need a hybrid model. The algorithms will only show viewers what they want to see and not what they need to see. This will push them more and more into ideological echo chambers and reinforce their biases. To avoid that we, human editors, should have a say,” he says.

Speaking as part of the TCPD Virtual Lecture Series organised by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data on ‘The TRP Scam: A Fraud on the Nation’, he said the TRP system was a major reason for him to quit NDTV and never to get back to television news.

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“I have spent 25 years in TV and if there was a solution, I would have never quit it. There is no solution. Unlike in the US, where news channels have other sources of revenue like viewer subscriptions, things are very different in India. Here news channels are entirely dependent on advertising revenue, which is driven by TRPs. We have realised that TRPs in news comes not by doing good journalism but by bad journalism like screaming at the guests and communalising issues. This is the existentialist challenge of television news and it will always be there. However, the era of TV news is fading and digital news is going to be the future. There you don’t need TRPs. The viewership data is available and it is factual and authenticated.”

Explaining the model at Editorji, he says, “We choose 170-180 factual stories and then allow the algorithm to assemble them. The human editors choose the stories, ensuring that we show you what you need to see and not just what you would like to see. The algorithm then stitches it together.”

The session was moderated by Maya Mirchandani, a former television journalist and now an Assistant Professor at Ashoka University.

Speaking about video news on digital platforms, Chandra stressed the need for simplicity. “Digital video news has not solved the format factor yet. How are people going to consume video news on their devices? Are people going to type and search for news on YouTube? And how will they know what is in the news? It has to be like the music industry where artificial intelligence makes playlists for you, yet not completely controlled by it,” he suggested.

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