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Commentary: What does Shashi Sinha’s accession to BARC chair mean for the M&E sector?

Sinha has stepped in at a time when the credibility of BARC India is under constant scrutiny. The task cut out for him is far from simple as he needs to rebuild the trust of all stakeholders in the measurement system, along with ensuring that the government intervention in the industry’s issues remains low

Shashi Sinha

Measurement is money, but it is fatal for any media vehicle across all verticals if it lacks credibility among stakeholders. For example, the inconsistency and lack of trust in the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) was responsible for the devaluation of print media.

The controversy around IRS was at its peak in 2013-14 and one person was entrusted to bring all the stakeholders on the same page to make IRS a reality. Although it could not sustain for long, due to various vested interests, but Shashi Sinha emerged as the thread that could bind the industry together because of his convincing capability and other skills.

Sinha has again been chosen for the difficult task to reinstate the industry’s trust in the television audience measurement system BARC. The joint industry body owned by IBF, ISA and AAAI was virtually declared dead by many industry stalwarts after the manipulations of ratings at the data processing level were exposed by third-party audit.

The report by Acquisory Consulting established that the BARC’s then leadership team, led by former CEO Partho Dasgupta, was involved in corrupt practices and in several cases the TRPs were decided by them. At times, they did not bother with what the data was saying.

Sinha, who was the Techcom chairman that time, was also taken for a ride by Dasgupta as the former was kept in dark over several decisions.

Challenges Galore

With Nakul Chopra at helm of day-to-day operations as BARC CEO, Sinha’s first challenge would be to ensure transparency in each and every decision that affects the industry at large. The lessons learnt from the oversights in the past would certainly be applied but at the same time, Sinha would have to view every action using several filters.

The ways of rigging are continuously evolving and the industry recently witnessed this when Republic TV aired Hindi feeds on big events such as Counting day and on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s swearing-in.

As the new chairman, Sinha will have to face questions from stakeholders about such tricks played by Republic TV in order to gain unfair advantage. All this would require pre-emptive and quick actions before it turns into another menace for the industry.

Other challenges for Sinha include further strengthening of outlier management, including the outliers generating through landing pages, dual LCN or meter tampering. 

Now that the government has stepped in for reforms within the TV measurement system, Sinha will be leading the most crucial part - integration of return path data (RPD) into BARC data after the Joint Working Group formed by I&B Ministry to study RPD submits its report in the next two months.

His accession to the chair coincides with the return of the ratings for the news genre, historically known as trouble makers for BARC India. Even as the impact of landing page cannot be mitigated completely, the news channels are unhappy over unsatisfactory intervention of algorithms handling the data coming through landing pages.

However, the channels are showing restraint given that News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) had said it will review the system after three months.

Sinha has taken over from Punit Goenka, as ISA skipped its turn this year. Next year, Sinha will continue as BARC Chairman as the AAAI nominee. The industry is expecting him to transform the measurement body into a near manipulation-proof system in these two years.

Digital video measurement

Even as the government’s TRP committee report brought this issue in focus, there was not much thrust on this topic. But as digital video consumption is exploding, BARC under the leadership of Sinha will have to revive its plans for EKAM, its digital currency.

EKAM in its initial stage failed to take off because of resistance from big players, including Google, Facebook and several Indian OTT players who wanted to continue with the walled gardens built around their platforms.

Advertisers are still lacking confidence in going all out for digital video advertising due to the walled gardens built around every OTT platform. Although advertisers get results in terms of brand building and sales when they embark on digital video advertising, they have been taking a leap of faith while investing when it comes to measurement. 

If the Indian players have to increase their share of pie in digital video advertising against the likes of Google and Facebook, they will have to help with the EKAM roll out which will instil a lot of confidence in the advertisers. 

The industry is expecting that Sinha with the help of I&B ministry will be able to pull off the launch of the unified digital video measurement system during his tenure as BARC Chairman.

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