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Is it Arnab Goswami vs I&B Minister Anurag Thakur over the suspension of news TRPs?

It is still not clear how NBF is accusing BARC India of ‘disregarding’, ‘defying’, and ‘violating’ the MIB order when both the ministry and the Minister have no problem with the TV news viewership release date

(File pictures) - (L) Arnab Goswami and Anurag Thakur (R)

Arnab Goswami-led News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) sharpened its attack on BARC India just two days after the joint industry body reached out to its subscribers about resuming news ratings beginning March 17.

NBF wrote a four-page open letter addressed to BARC India Chairman on Wednesday with copies marked to I&B Minister Anurag Thakur and the chairmen (read presidents) of all the industry bodies - IBDF, AAAI, ISA and NBDA.

The Goswami-led industry body fired all the gunshots claiming that I&B Ministry’s order was being defied, as the open letter was titled “History is being wiped out in total disregard, defiance, and violation of MIB order - Why is BARC board seemingly protecting the interest of select legacy brands - Call for an Open House for the sake of Transparency.”

Ever since the ministry ordered BARC India to resume news ratings with immediate effect on January 12, 2022, NBF has been consistently questioning the delay in the release of the data. The Ministry and the Minister, however, do not see any delay and have even confirmed the date and process in the Parliament. 

I&B Minister Anurag Thakur on Tuesday confirmed to the Parliament that BARC's viewership data for TV news will be released starting March 17.

Industry veterans say it is very confusing why NBF is still accusing BARC India. Some even suggested that through this open letter, the Goswami-led industry body might be targeting the I&B Minister for not following the NBF line. had earlier explained the meaning of “immediate effect” in the ministry’s order that came in on January 12. The letter was issued on Wednesday and by “immediate effect” the Ministry did not intend to say that the data has to be released on the very next day nor it was possible for BARC India to do so. 

The Ministry had also highlighted that BARC had indicated that in view of the changes undertaken by it, they are reaching out to related constituencies to explain the new proposals and are in readiness to actually commence the release as per the new protocols. 

This clearly means that the ministry intended to say it was lifting its previous order to stop the ratings with “immediate effect”.

In its first response to the Ministry’s order, BARC India had sought eight weeks’ time to release the data and had given in writing that the news ratings would resume from March 17. This was reported by on January 20, 2022, and the I&B Minister reiterated this in the Parliament on Tuesday.

It, therefore, is still not clear how NBF is still accusing BARC India of ‘disregarding’, ‘defying’, and ‘violating’ the MIB order, when both the Ministry and the Minister have no problem with the release date.

NBF further accused that BARC’s communication to its subscribers came barely a week after detailed discussion with channels of NBDA, which it alleged amounts to a conflict of interest on the issue. “NBF, as the largest new broadcasters’ industry association protecting the business interest of news channels has not been consulted despite several requests on the same,” the federation wrote.

The first question NBF asked is: Why is History being wiped out?

“Even during the dark period - October 15, 2020, until date - audience data is being collected and tabulated for all Genres including those with a lesser sample size than News channels. So, in all fairness, it should be released as they are, with immediate effect and ‘as directed by the MIB’,” NBF said.

For the record, the Ministry in its order on January 12 had only asked the ratings agency to release the last “three months” data for the genre in a monthly format.

NBF attached a graph and raised doubts about the possibility of vested interests being served of a select few unless the data for the entire blackout period for News Genre is released. “Is it a mere coincidence that this group of select few represent the board of NBDA and some of them are on the board of IBDF which is the controlling authority of BARC,” it said.

NBF said the graph shows the trend of News viewership before unilaterally BARC stopped News ratings allegedly under the instigation of NBDA.

Goswami has consistently been accusing NBDA of conspiring with Param Bir Singh, the then Commissioner of Police of Mumbai, against Republic. 

According to Goswami’s interpretations on various occasions, the TRP case was a ‘hoax’ case because investigating officer was getting instructions from his political boss, and the ratings were stopped because of the TRP case. can confirm that the TRPs were "not" suspended because of the police FIR and their investigation. BARC India in the past had filed many such FIRs across the country for meter tampering. It was also not suspended because this time it was a high-profile meter tampering case involving big names.

The real reason behind the suspension of ratings was the Acquisory Consulting’s audit report. After the press conference called by Mumbai police to expose the TRP racket, top people in the BARC Board of Directors revisited the audit report in detail, basis which Romil Ramgarhia was removed as COO. When they sensed the depth of the evidence of corruption, they decided to stop the ratings for the news genre for 8-12 weeks.

The incriminating details of WhatsApp chat between former CEO of BARC India Partho Dasgupta and Goswami were produced as proof in Mumbai police chargesheet in mid-January. The chats had brought a lot of embarrassment to the government. Following which, the then I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar decided to let the ban continue until the system is made robust by implementing TRP Committee report. 

Thakur on Tuesday accepted in the Parliament that the Ministry on February 15, 2021, had directed BARC to maintain status quo in the matter of ratings. “This was necessitated in view of the alleged reports of manipulation and review of the whole ecosystem of publishing of ratings,” the Minister had said.

Like the Minister, the industry is largely aware of the chronology. So must be Goswami. However, it is not clear whether he continuously repeats half-truth to create any narrative or to show the Minister in a bad light.

NBF’s open letter explained the reason why NBDA would want to get the ratings stopped saying, “NBF channels TV9 Bharatvarsh, Republic Bharat, and News Nation - and not part of NBDA - were gaining ground in Hindi news genre and emerged as in leadership positions, as well as other NBF member channels were changing the pecking order of the news genre ratings across the country. Very clearly, had the ratings continued with a similar trend, the NBDA channels which were losing ground in the pecking order would not have been able to protect their advertising rates vis-à-vis these emerging channels.”

“And, now by wiping out the entire history BARC is depriving the advertisers of complete clarity on how news viewership had been during this period and barring them from doing post-evaluation of their campaigns,” NBF explained.

In the second point of the letter, NBF stated that the “opt-out options” given by BARC India will obfuscate reality. 

“The MIB had directed BARC to immediately release the data with ‘immediate effect’ on four-week rolling over basis including the data for the preceding three months ‘for fair and equitable representation of true trends’. BARC, however, has chosen to completely undermine the government’s order and in violation is now proceeding with an opt-out option,” NBF said.

The federation explained that the ratings are relative within a genre. “The opt-out option is a direct contravention and renders completely redundant the MIB direction of 3-month ratings. The opt-out is a way to conceal even recent historical data.”

“News channels generate revenue by selling air time to advertisers on the primary condition that news channel viewership is measured in market share terms. Any channel opting out disrupts the true representation of the market share. BARC by providing an opt-out option is doing an extreme disservice to the entire industry, including advertisers and advertising agencies as well.”

Sources in the Ministry told that it is up to any channel, which does not want ratings, to walk out. “Be it the past or future data, whoever is not happy with anything, can walk out. Moreover, why would the Ministry get into this,” the source said.

“You cannot force stay channel/s for being measured because they are needed for the true representation of relative share,” the source added.

In the third point in the letter, NBF presented some new theory behind choosing March 17 for resuming data. 

“Even if the audience data is released on a 4-week rolling average basis on March 17, 2022, the final TRPs will skew the average since it would only reflect a one-off major event of the Assembly elections and the ensuing counting day to five states, including Uttar Pradesh. The day chosen for the resumption of ratings will not give a fair and transparent picture of the actual viewership across the stakeholders - trusted viewers, advertisers and advertising agencies,” the federation accused.

Further, NBF unknowingly helped Aaj Tak by presenting another graph establishing the channel at No. 1 on big events day. 

The graph above depicts that Aaj Tak which has been around for more than 20 years as the leader of Hindi News genre in viewership terms has benefitted on big News days, such as elections in Hindi-speaking states and counting day news coverage, NBF said.

“Graph #3 shows how during the last Lok Sabha counting day Aaj Tak’s rating spiked by more than 30%,” the federation cemented Aaj Tak’s leadership further with the third graph.

“Is it a mere coincidence that the Vice-Chairperson of Aaj Tak is on the board of BARC and the chairperson of TV Today Group is on IBDF which controls BARC as the majority shareholder?” the NBF asked.

Ask anyone if one news channel in its personal capacity can fix the whole ecosystem, the answer is “may be” looking at the way Acquisory report found Goswami fixing the whole BARC system. However, at industry level it is highly unlikely because NBDA and IBDF have Aaj Tak’s competition to oppose any such move that can benefit the channel.

The fourth point is about the issue of landing page. “BARC is silent on the systems that have to be put in place to correct the impact of landing pages, a major concern for the industry. For instance, in West Bengal, ABP Ananda, we believe has the landing page on a distribution network that covers about 50 percent of the state. BARC needs to openly declare the outliers and the measures that are being taken to prevent the spike in ratings due to landing pages,” NBF wrote.

Did NBF shoot in its foot by raising landing page issue which was at the core of entire suffering for the news genre, especially the smaller broadcasters it represents.

It has been highlighted by several times (here and here) that landing page was “the tool” used by former CEO of BARC India, Partho Dasgupta, to suppress Times Now and benefit Republic TV when it was launched in May 2017.

The forensic report by Acquisory found Republic TV’s final viewership data after outlier cleaning was surprisingly increased by 10, 4 and 3 TVTs in Week 27, 39 and 46 of 2017, respectively. Whereas, around half of the viewership numbers of Times Now were excluded despite the fact that Dasgupta was aware of Republic TV’s landing deals.

The raw data analysis done by Acquisory Consulting had reported how the big and cash rich channels were using landing pages at over 180 headends across the country which smaller channels cannot afford at all.

Furthermore, on September 3, 2020, BARC India introduced algorithms into its data validation method to mitigate the impact of landing page on viewership data across all genres of channels.

Derrick Gray, Chief of Measurement Science & Business Analytics, BARC India, had claimed that BARC India will now be able to mitigate any landing page anomaly to better reflect viewer’s choice.

Previously, the outliers were removed on the basis of symptomatic statistics. BARC replaced it with a method that directly uses inferential statistics to deliver better results across all genres.

The fifth point raised in the letter was about preservation of raw data. 

“Not only historical data should be released for the entire blackout period, BARC has to give assurance to preserve raw data collected in the past 16 months but released to the subscribers. BARC should ensure that the historical raw data is not tampered with. So that in any future investigation or litigation, as and when the need arises, it is readily available for inspection. The BARC technical committee must provide assurance of this,” it said.

Investigation, litigation and inspection of raw data is where Acquisory found Republic TV’s final data were more than the raw data, despite Goswami telling Dasgupta about the channel being present on the landing page of Kolkata’s largest distributor ICNCL. The audit of data had also proved unjustly and arbitrarily removing more than 50% of Times Now’s viewership.

Several industry leaders and experts are also of the opinion that the raw data should be preserved for any investigation, litigation and inspection.

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