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How can broadcasting industry move to faster adoption of Return Path Data for a reliable viewership metric

As individual DTH players are out in the market to sell RPD to broadcasters, the industry feels it will create a set of confusing measurement currencies. For a faster and more credible adoption, the government, industry stakeholders and BARC India should jointly find a solution for standardising the RDP collection and measurement practices, along with funding the required infrastructure for it

Return Path Data-led measurement of TV viewership has once again made the headlines after the four member TRP Committee appointed by the government shared its report with Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC India) and all broadcaster associations on Monday

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Immediately after the TRP scam broke last year, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry formed the TRP Committee led by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Vempati to access the existing rating system for TV channels.

When the committee submitted the report on January 12, 2021, the then I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar said “the report will be discussed and given to BARC India”.

Why did it take 11 months for the government to share the report with BARC India and industry bodies? The answer lies in the report itself which talked about creating an alternate currency to promote competition without any roadmap of financing the new currency.

Expanding the sample base through Return Path Data was another solution suggested in the report which never took off owing to several complications such as involvement of multiple stakeholders including DTH and cable operators.

While a few DTH players such as Tata Sky and Airtel were equipped with the set top boxes with RPD capabilities, many other operators required to upgrade their set top boxes. The players whose set top boxes required upgrade were reluctant to get into this with the question that who would fund their additional investment on infrastructure.

The players who already had the capabilities asked BARC India to pay for the data as they spend a certain amount on data crunching. When the measurement body, then headed by Partho Dasgupta, refused to pay them, the matter was put to the rest.

However, sensing the demand of RPD in the absence of ratings for the news genre, Airtel decided to sell their data to individual broadcasters.

A few broadcasters told on the condition of anonymity that they do not want to create another dinosaur. “Today if we start paying X amount to Airtel, Tata Sky will say they will charge double because they are double in terms of subscriber-base. They have the information what their competition is quoting in the market. How much will we keep paying to all the individual players? Moreover, the presence of so many different data would create a lot of confusion,” said a broadcast executive. 

“Considering the manual intervention in the BARC data, which was responsible for the fraud, RPD is the best possible solution. This has the potential to give real-time data at any given point, just as YouTube data. There will not be any chance of manipulation in this case. Any broadcaster will welcome this move,” said a senior executive from another broadcast network.

BARC India’s reservations to rely heavily on the RPD data were that the Return Path Data coming through set top boxes would be household data and would not throw granular details on individual level which is essential for media planning by the advertisers. Hence, it wanted to use select set top boxes representing every market, and not all the set top boxes available with a DTH or cable operator. And then, the rating agency would have processed the data along with its own data collected through existing barometers.

“The ratings or any measurement data is based on statistical approximation. If you can rely on extrapolation of a few thousands individual data to give a sense about what India is watching, I do not see any harm in relying on millions of household data and then using statistical tools to extrapolate the same individual level estimation. I do not think this is an issue that cannot be solved unless the industry does not want a solution to this,” said a broadcast executive. 

“At least we will have reliable data on markets and NCCS level,” the executive added.

“Such highly unrealistic pricing for data quoted by individual players will never sustain. The government and industry stakeholders of BARC India should jointly find a solution to this in order to avoid any possibility to create dozens of currencies. BARC’s competition could only be another measurement body and not the individual DTH or cable operators selling different data to different broadcasters and advertisers,” a media observer said.

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