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Industry bodies divided over TRP Committee’s key recommendations

The way forward on implementation and funding of the return path data methodology and reconstitution of the BARC, audit of MDPL and easy access of raw data are likely to attract constructive comments from the industry bodies, while the TV news industry may try to push for early reforms

As the industry bodies are all set to send their final comments on the TRP Committee report to the I&B Ministry today, all eyes are on the stand taken by the AAAI, ISA, IBDF, NBDA and NBDF.

All industry bodies are expected to comment on select recommendations made by the Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati-led committee, and not all the recommendations, according to multiple sources from across the stakeholders.

When asked about the overview of the report, a senior executive from one of the industry bodies told that it is nothing short of a tactic to delay the matter as long as possible. On the other hand, others feel that a multiple stakeholder comprehensive study takes time, and when so much has happened at BARC including the exit of a CEO, the basics must be taken care of before resuming the normal course of business.

“After the TRP scam broke, there was a general sense that the TRP committee will give its recommendations in two months to fix the loopholes in the existing system in a timebound manner. It took more than 10 months to share the report with the industry and we have simply lost significant time. Does not this amount to just buying more time when the entire industry is struggling to bounce back from the impact of the pandemic?” the executive said.

Defending the need for a detailed study, the counter-argument by many industry insiders is that BARC has been in the limelight for the wrong reasons in the last one year, and it is better to get the house in order first rather than to keep adding up to the long list of mistakes.

While the revenue of top news channels has not suffered, weaker brands may be at a loss. An industry veteran said that the weaker news brands need to look inside and improve their content and environment. "It is best to have a reliable currency than just a currency."

The general sense is that the industry bodies will tell the government that they are already in the process of implementing a few recommendations, especially on corporate governance and reconstruction of the BARC India board, its TechCom and inclusion of independent members.

The report will go uncontested on issues ranging from external members on the board to appointing TechCom members having technical/ data-science/ analytics/ business-insights responsibilities who are able to meaningfully contribute to Technical Review of changes to data models, methodologies, algorithms etc.

It may be noted that the TRP committee had not found merit in TRAI’s recommendation that the “restructured board of BARC India should provide for equal representation of the three constituent Industry Associations, namely; AAAI, ISA and IBF and with equal voting rights irrespective of their proportion of equity holding.”

The committee rather recommended to ensure term limits on individual/ stakeholder corporation representatives nominated to both the Board and to its committees while minimising conflict of interests. Further, the number of seats held by any one stakeholder corporation must be capped.

While this recommendation will be supported by AAAI, ISA and IBF, broadcaster representation at the TechComm though may attract a strong argument in favour as the business of broadcasters are diverse and require representation from each.

All the industry bodies are also likely to support the recommendations on the inclusion of Return Path Data, in principle, but with certain reservations such as the RPD data should not be merged with the existing BARC data and both should be reported and treated differently.

“We are discussing RPD for about four years now and it has not moved an inch further. The TRP committee report says that ‘provision for RPD be made a mandatory capability in all future STBs deployed by DPOs’, but will the DPOs invest in hybrid set-top boxes unless they are incentivised or they see this as an additional revenue stream? The DTH players with RPD capabilities are either denying to share the data with BARC India or trying to sell it to the individual broadcasters at a high cost. The report fell short in addressing this issue,” said an industry analyst.

The recommendation to combine the RPD data with the data collected from people meters may not get a smooth passage as the advertisers need individual-level data in the age where personalisation has become paramount for them. Even the broadcasters’ bodies are of the view that RPD should be treated separately and it should be left on the advertisers who want to target at the household level.

On creating competition to BARC India, the industry bodies will either not comment or they will register their protest. “The question is who will come forward and invest hundreds of crores when they will not have any assurance that there will be subscribers to their data. It looks nice on the paper but in reality, it should be left open for the market forces to decide,” said an industry observer.

The report also seeks certain amendments in the guidelines to enable Prasar Bharati to revive its Doordarshan Audience Ratings (DART) which was shut long ago. When asked if there will be any taker for the government ratings, a senior marketer at a large-sized brand told that he is not aware whether the government is involved in TV ratings business anywhere else in the world.

“Forget about individual players like Nielsen, I highly doubt that even government will spend a few hundreds of crores on this without knowing its future,” the marketer said.

BARC India has already decided and readied itself to release the data for news and niche genres on the basis of a four-week rolling average which addresses the recommendations about reducing the frequency of data reporting. But many feel that a lot more needs to be done to remove incentives for unhealthy business practices and BARC's process need to be further foolproofed.

On sharing raw level data with the subscribers, the committee recommended a uniform policy for share/sale of RLD to all interested parties while preserving the integrity of the ratings system. “Even the broadcasters who have been shouting at the top of their voice to access raw level data along with the final ratings to keep a check on the discrepancies know well that BARC India has a rate card for that and it is open for everyone. A few research organisations are already buying it. It is available for all but at a certain price. The broadcasters are hiding this point because they perhaps want the raw level data at their existing fee structure,” said an industry veteran.

Others clarify that while consulting is available, granular data and examination is not available for all.

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