When the entire industry was looking up to the stakeholders of BARC India to protect the sanctity of measurement system after English news channels walked out of BARC, the three bodies - Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) – have ruled out any action against them and only said that it was not necessary to drag BARC into the multiple LCN issue.
Although the credibility of BARC was not directly questioned by the news channels, it eventually translated into an attack on the measurement system and hence it was expected that the stakeholders would act in some manner to avoid similar occurrences in future.
Considering the news channels are also the members of IBF board, it was foundation’s responsibility to keep their house in check but it seems to have let the news channels go without issuing even an advisory so far. While BARC has handled the issue on its own along with some support from AAAI and ISA, IBF took about two weeks to come out in support of the measurement system in which it holds the majority stake of 60 per cent.
However, AAAI has said that it could come up with an advisory in future.
Sudhanshu Vats, Chairman, BARC and Vice President, IBF, said, “The first truth in this matter is about BARC and its methods to measure what India watches. In that context, it is safe to say that watermarking is a modern, robust technology that has held the industry in good stead. In record time, BARC has earned a fair share of its currency of trust and all its stakeholders are committed to its mission, including the IBF which backs it in entirety. To be frank, it was wrong to drag BARC into the issue in the first place.”
Sunil Kataria, Business Head – India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Product Limited (GCPL) and President, ISA, stressed the fact that BARC is a collective body. “It is an issue that is not related to BARC at all. This issue was more to do with distribution,” he opined.
While similar scenarios have reared their ugly heads during the times of Television Audience Measurement (TAM) and earlier TV measurement systems, BARC is a differentiated organisation. Nakul Chopra, President, AAAI, said, “BARC is a government mandated institution with participation from relevant departments of the government. It is a joint initiative of the entire ecosystem - government, broadcasters, agencies and the advertisers. None of this was the same with TAM and hence, the two should not be compared.”
“About the multiple LCN issue, BARC has always been very clear that we are here to measure viewership, not to regulate the distribution of any channel. Through multiple or single LCN, we will only tell you how many people watched it (the content),” he added.
So, now, when all parties agree that the forceful involvement of BARC into this matter was completely avoidable, what could be done to avoid similar instances in the future?
Chopra expressed a possibility of action. He pointed out how this problem was not limited to TV viewership/ BARC/ TAM.
“Going forward we will contemplate this and will issue some kind of advisory to our members - not only the broadcast mediums, but all mediums - to abide by the rules of their respective measurement systems. We will have an encompassing policy which we will discuss with ISA and analyse how we can respond whenever a small cluster or a single media house walks out of ‘a measurement system’. This is not something that we need to react in just BARC context, we need to look at it holistically,” he explained.
Kataria, however, feels that the current issue is resolved and nothing needs to be done for now. Commenting about the NBA-BARC tussle, he said, “The issue is already sorted out as the channels have already decided to return to BARC ratings. BARC is a collective body which is created for the best practices in TV measurement ratings. AAAI, ISA, IBF and NBA are joint partners in this and we should all learn to accept that finally the most important thing is to know what India watches. This is the founding principal of BARC and we should keep this in mind as the stakeholders. Advisories are sent when the issue is not resolved. I don’t think there is any meaning of sending advisories now, since the channels are back on BARC system.”
Chopra expressed his displeasure with the whole issue by saying, “This time, we did not need to take any action. But it does not mean that we support these actions of walking in and out of BARC, whenever one if unhappy. Also, we were not waiting for IBF to take the lead. It’s just that we were trying to ensure that this gets resolved in a manner that the news channels remain inside BARC and that’s what happened.”
When the select broadcasters took a plunge into this blame-game and involved various institutions into it – right from BARC, TRAI and the Delhi HC, what impact has it left on the industry? What were the prospective implications that could have had a long term impact if the issue was not resolved sooner?
Credibility, according to the three stakeholders, would have been a big question. As Vats puts it, “This is a truth that requires us to introspect as an industry. It is unfortunate that some members have taken issue with the use of multiple LCNs when many have themselves set the precedent for it – either as a promotional or as a defensive tactic. While this should now abate given the recent direction from TRAI, moving forward, all market players must create consensus internally rather than squander away the valuable time of the courts. Our ‘shared credibility’ as an industry should never be dented – especially not by our own actions.”
All said and done, one of the most important implications could have been on business and considering that an advertising dependent industry needs viewership numbers more than anything else.
Kataria is of the opinion that ratings should be treated as sacrosanct. “The right metric/ measurement system is the most important thing for the advertisers. Advertisers pay for the eyeballs and these eyeballs come from the ratings system. We are all finally banking on one ratings system, the one in which we all have invested in. It is in the interest of all of us to make it a success. All measurement systems in the world have some or the other issue. There will always be issues and we need to jointly resolve it,” he said.
Chopra too agreed that ratings is very important and hence, a sensitive aspect.
“Ratings is a sensitive topic and there will always be overreaction from some part of the constituency. But it has nothing to do with BARC, TAM, IRS, MRUC or any other measurement system. The good part is that BARC was able to resolve this very fast and very suitably,” said Chopra.
TRAI had, on May 31, 2017, issued an advisory to the multi system operators (MSOs) titled ‘Listing of TV Channels on Electronic Programme Guide’ about not carrying any channel in multiple genres. The authority has also warned the distribution players of strict action by TRAI, in case of non-compliance.
Vats welcomed the move and said, “The recent note from TRAI on the LCN issue is a welcome step in the right direction. It provides all market players with much-needed clarity and clearly spells out the regulator’s view on the issue. Once again TRAI has taken the ‘consumer lens’ and ensured that she remains at the centre of the discourse.”
The world is moving towards multiple devices and once the all-inclusive measurement system is in place, the broadcasters will increasingly be required to focus on content, rather than focusing on distribution tactics.
Giving a sneak-peek into what the broadcasters should focus on, Vats added, “Finally, as we look towards a ‘multi-screen future’, ‘Total Audience Measurement’ (i.e., measurement of content consumption across devices including handheld, desktop, TV etc.) will become the norm. In such an environment, all content players will look at innovative ways to increase their reach and sampling while focusing on delivering winning content. This is the new normal that we all need to prepare for. I’ve always thought of our industry as a large family with members who often quarrel but eventually come together. This time will be no different.”