Industry must support BARC’s punishment of TV9, V6, India News


barcWhen, late last week, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India suspended the publication of the TV viewership ratings of two Telugu news channels – TV9 and V6 – and one Hindi channel India News, it sent a strong and unequivocal signal to the entire ecosystem of TV broadcasters and a reassurance to the marketers and advertisers who rely on the BARC India TV viewership ratings to make their TV ad spend decisions. In October, BARC had filed a police compliant in Kerala against attempts to influence panel homes. Now, with this decisive punitive action, BARC has shown its bite is worse. Kudos.

With its punitive action against TV9, V6 and India News, BARC has sent a strong signal to TV broadcasters and a reassurance to the marketers and advertisers who rely on the BARC India TV viewership ratings to make their TV ad spend decisions

TV9, V6 and India News are alleged to have tried to influence the residents of some metered households with monetary benefits to persuade the household members to view their own channels much more than the others. That led to major ratings spikes which, without any major content tentpoles in those channels’ content during the measurement period, was what had the red flags fluttering. There was completely unusual behaviour and resultant viewership for the channels in certain parts of the country. Word is, homes where the channels had rarely — if not never — been watched were mainlining on the channels, and  for hours at a stretch.

Word also is, this one-month suspension for a first transgression is just an indication of things to come; BARC India will punish any similar activities  with a longer punitive suspension of channel ratings’ publication for three to four months.

BARC India is an excellent initiative aimed at empowering the television industry, and even though it may have emerged from a pressing need for the TV industry to pre-empt a possible government-introduced TV viewership measurement system that was looming a couple of years ago, Partho Dasgupta and his team at BARC India have given India both — a truly strong TV Viewership measurement system and an entity that has kept itself at more than an arm’s length from any possible conflict of interests. How BARC came down heavily upon the three TV channels is a case in point.

BARC, as tracker and publisher of TV viewership numbers across India, has a massive responsibility. The industry trades on the ratings numbers currency that BARC releases, which are the ad spends yardstick for the Television advertising business in India which, at INC18000 Crore, has the lions share of the INR45000 Crore advertising business (per Zenith Optimedia).

Happily, BARC India has a strong vigilance team whose sole purpose is to dissuade any rare broadcaster who might be tempted to tamper with viewership numbers to increase ad revenue. The latest example of which we saw with the cessation the three channels’ TV ratings publication.

In October this year too, BARC India — along with the Kerala TV Federation, the trade body that represents Malayalam channels in Kerala —  had filed a complaint with Kerala Police on ‘attempts to tamper panel homes’. The police complaint was filed with the Director General of Kerala police after BARC India’s vigilance team received constant complaints regarding attempts to retrieve addresses of BARC India panel homes and influencing them.

We have evidence of a couple of broadcasters trying to tamper with our panel homes to improve ratings. We have taken steps to quarantine the affected panel homes. While we have filed a complaint this time, we want the industry to be aware that going forward BARC India will stop publishing ratings for those channels found involved in such activities: BARC India CEO Partho Dasgupta in October 2016

That complaint, a BARC statement had said, was filed with BARC India vigilance team’s gathered conclusive evidence of more than one effort to tamper with BARC India’s television viewership measurement system in favour of a couple of channels. Preliminary scrutiny by on-ground vigilance team had confirmed that attempts had been made by some individuals to not only find out the addresses of BARC India panel homes, but also to incentivise them and influence their viewership.

Obviously, such attempts cause concern to BARC India and the Broadcasting community in the Kerala market, along with financial loss and loss of reputation.

Per its established standard operating procedure, BARC India immediately quarantined the impacted panel homes from its TV viewership measurement system to ensure infiltration efforts wouldn’t impact ratings of channels operating in the region.

partho-dasgupta-barc-ceo-pavanrchawladotcom
Partho Dasgupta

BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta had said in October that the “TV industry trades on the currency released by BARC India and we understand how important every rating point is to the broadcaster. We have evidence of a couple of broadcasters trying to tamper with our panel homes to improve ratings. We have taken steps to quarantine the affected panel homes. While we have filed a complaint this time, we want the industry to be aware that going forward BARC India will stop publishing ratings for those channels found involved in such activities.”

And last week, BARC India went ahead and made good on its promise and stopped publishing ratings for TV9, V6 and India News which it found were involved in ‘such activities’.

The fact that the three channels’ viewership ratings saw a huge unexplainable-from-content spike leads one to believe that the panel homes must have colluded with the broadcaster – regardless of who between the two is alleged to have been the first mover. So while BARC has quarantined the specific panel homes, one feels those homes should be made an example of, so the others on the panel can resist any similar temptations. Having said that, it is a delicate space, and one feels BARC would have made its point very strongly in an offline and direct manner. But one would really like to know what action was taken.

The action BARC has taken has been as strong as its responsibility to the Broadcasting ecosystem is enormous. One is aware that BARC takes all measures to ensure information on panel households remains a secret, but what happens when a panel household member reaches out to a broadcaster?  I’m not conjecturing this is what must have happened, but it would be good to know from BARC if this, indeed, was how the broadcasters in question got in touch with the specific panel households. Did the panel homes fall into the broadcasters’ laps, or was it assiduous efforts by the broadcasters that got them physically into the panel homes?

That BARC India went ahead and made a strong example of the allegedly errant channels without getting influenced despite being a Joint Industry Company, speaks volumes for the spirit in which it was conceived of and created by industry leaders, and is being run by its current team.

In fact, the industry needs to come together and support BARC India in its endeavor of cracking down on those indulging in tampering / influencing of panel homes. BARC India has been able to send out a strong message to the industry through its actions.

One does wonder how the past measurer and publisher of TV viewership ratings never caught or repoted any similar transgressions even though my friends and former colleagues in the distribution have always maintained that such practices were quite prevalent.
‘V6 would never depend on such unnecessary manipulation,” Ankam Ravi, its CEO, has been reported as having said. I just want to ask him, ‘When, Mr Ravi, would V6 consider manipulation necessary?’

Happy to see BARC’s commitment to upholding the sanctity of the ratings currency the industry uses for so many big investments in TV media buying.

Coming back to the recent past, as in the week that was, what do the heads of the three ‘errant’ channels have to say on the matter?  Since I couldn’t get in touch with them, I’m borrowing from Vidhi Chaudhary’s excellent story on the issue in Mint. India News CEO Varun Kohli had told her,  “We are shocked to hear this. We are trying to talk to all the stakeholders, including Barc, to resolve the matter and address any misgivings. We are confident that the matter will be sorted out soon. We are a credible network in the broadcasting business for the last eight years and we have shown consistent growth for the last five years in TAM & Barc ratings. We believe in the transparency of the system and intend getting to the bottom of the matter.”

TV9 has remained quiet on the issue, but Ankam Ravi, CEO of V6 News, has been quoted as saying, “We are very shocked at this. I’m sure there has been a mistake and we are talking with Barc management. V6, known for its uniqueness in responsible journalism, is very strong and popular among the masses and we, the management, would never depend on such unnecessary manipulation.”

I’m taking their responses completely on face value, without comment, except this one to the last part of the last sentence in Ankam’s response, where he says, “(V6) would never depend on such unnecessary manipulation.” Unnecessary manipulation? I just want to ask, “When,  Mr Ankam, would V6 consider manipulation necessary?”

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