Industry POV

#OpinionsThatCount: Is BARC’s action against channels too harsh? - Ashish Bhasin

28/11/2016

BestMediaInfo spoke to senior media observers to understand how right or wrong was the step to suspend ratings of channels that ‘tampered’ with sample homes. The overriding view is that such action is necessary and timely

In the third such order, Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) suspended ratings of three news channels last week. The measurement body took action against India News (a national Hindi news channel) and TV9 Telugu and V6 News, two Telugu news channels, by suspending their ratings from Week 46 to 49 of 2016.

BARC India has always been vocal about the discipline it wants to maintain in terms of the confidentiality of sample homes and transparency of the system. The first step was taken against a Tamil channel – Raj TV – which was told to explain its involvement in incentivising the sample homes. This was followed by another action by BARC when it, along with the Kerala TV Federation (KTF), filed a police complaint against a few channels for allegedly tampering with data by trying to retrieve addresses of sample homes where BARC bar-o-meters were placed. So, what does this mean? BARC India has installed its bar-o-meters in select homes to map the viewership patterns of the members of these homes, thereby scaling it to the total TV viewing homes in the country. Compromising with these homes and the sample audience will mean a sharp rise and decline in the viewership numbers of the channels.

Hence, BARC India is getting stricter and is now going beyond sending notices to defaulting broadcasters. But are filing police complaints and suspending data too strict an action? Are we looking at a potentially disruptive way of punishment? Or is this really

necessary for the truthfulness and accuracy of viewership data?

It must be noted that annual advertising money of over Rs 27,000 crore is riding on the measurement numbers churned out by BARC every week and this reinstates the need for accuracy. Even BARC India’s predecessor TAM used to issue showcause notices to channels found tampering with data homes. However, unlike TAM that depended largely on complaints registered by outsiders about tampering, BARC India has its own vigilance team that oversees the sample homes on ground.

In an earlier press statement issued by BARC in the same matter, Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India, had said, “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 once, we want the industry to be aware that going forward BARC India will stop publishing ratings for channels found involved in such activities.”

BestMediaInfo spoke to senior media observers to understand their perspective on how right or harsh is the step to suspend ratings of channels. Is it now very important to relentlessly pursue the defaulters and punish them? Will this finally bring discipline in the industry?

Sathyamurthy Namakkal, Executive Director, DDB Mudra Group and President, OMD MudraMax

Syndicated Media Research has to be unbiased as it is supposed to reflect media consumption realities and trends. Based on such research data, many considered decisions are taken and a lot of precious clients’ investments are used in advertising. Any attempt to jeopardise an independent third party research should be condemned and acted upon. From this perspective, the decision of BARC, in my opinion, is in the right direction. I am sure that BARC will close the loop through the completion of a thorough investigation and share the final outcome with all stakeholders. Such measures will not only bring more credibility into media research but will also bring in a sense of fear with those who are in any manner attempting to intervene with research processes.

Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO South, Asia Dentsu Aegis Network

Every time is a right time. I think the industry must name and shame the offenders and I think BARC is doing just the right thing. Because all the efforts that the industry puts in setting up the ratings system comes to naught if the constituents of the industry themselves try to sabotage it. This is happening in IRS in a big way. Unless we name and shame the offenders and take strict action, including legal action, this problem will never be stopped. There is no correct or wrong time to take such a step; if there’s a robbery happening, the report has to be lodged immediately. The stronger the action, the better it is because it has to be a deterrent for the defaulters. I think this will bring discipline as a strong example is set and message is sent that mischief will not be tolerated.

Sundeep Nagpal, Founder and Director, Stratagem Media

In my humble opinion, I believe that the value of belief systems must be corroborated by the intensity of deed/action. Similarly, the sanctity of data is under threat of being completely eroded if there is no stringent implementation of corrective action/s. There is nothing wrong in temporarily suspending channels if they resort to unethical means for vested interest. For far too long, our industry has been too lenient with defaulters. It’s very similar to the sudden and severe increase in penalties for traffic violations, for instance. It’s about time people realise the grave nature of their misdeeds. I sincerely hope that it brings order into practice. Otherwise media research itself may just become a joke.

Anita Nayyar, ‎CEO, Havas Media Group, India and South Asia

I can’t say whether it is right or wrong, but the issue really is that it is tough times, and the second thing is how to be sure that there are only these three channels that are adapting different means. There are over 800 channels in the country and more than half of them are associated with BARC India. Are only these three channels tampering with the data is my question. Also, nowhere does it explain what exactly was done for tampering. They only mention malicious and malafide practices. My only worry is whether BARC has taken stock of all the channels that it is monitoring. I also think it is a bit of a harsh step but again, is it an exhaustive list of channels? Banning three channels for a period of four weeks I doubt will be enough to bring in discipline in the industry. Look at the gamut of channels in the country, I don’t know why these three. Why news?

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