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BARC resumes publishing viewership data on website ending stand-off with TRAI

TRAI had sent a show-cause notice to BARC

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MUMBAI: Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) on Monday resumed publishing its weekly viewership data on the website, ending its stand-off with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The audience measurement firm website has now carried its findings for week 13 of 2019 for the top 10 channels, brands and advertisers.

Earlier, TRAI had issued a show-cause notice to BARC for not having adhered to the regulator’s directive of publishing weekly TV viewership data on its website during the new tariff order rollout.

The sector regulator asked the TV audience measurement firm to explain why action should not be taken against it for contravention of sections of the TRAI Act. Earlier, the industry watchdog asked BARC to publish ratings and TV viewership data for the week ending 8 February and subsequent weeks with immediate effect.

TRAI’s directive came in the wake of the latter's decision to release the weekly data only to its subscribers as opposed to publishing it on the website.

The show-cause notice dated 29 March also noted that BARC India did not comply with TRAI’s 22 February directive seeking the release of viewership data with immediate effect.

Following the show-cause notice, BARC issued a statement reiterating its position on the matter.

“BARC India is a joint industry body, and operates under self-regulation model, in compliance with Ministry of I&B Guidelines. In the NTO transition period, due to distribution disruptions (which have been well documented in media reports), there is significant volatility in data.  Due to this, and the fact that data in this period does not truly reflect viewers’ choice, BARC India Technical Committee and Board took a decision to temporarily suspend placing the limited set of data our website,” a BARC spokesperson said.

“Putting such misleading data on the website would be against public interest and could be misused by vested interests. BARC is constantly monitoring the ground situation on this.  We have made detailed submissions to TRAI and MIB, backed by data, on several occasions. Also, we would like to re-iterate that there has been no stoppage of data to our subscribers. Every week, our clients have been receiving weekly data without any disruption,” the spokesperson added.

An earlier TRAI directive read, "BARC India has modified its Fair and Permissible Usage Policy in February 14, 2019, even after being repeatedly asked by the authority to not stop publishing of rating data and viewership data on its website during the migration to new regulatory framework until and unless explicitly permitted by the authority and are thus, in contravention of the direction of the authority dated December 21, 2018 and January 14, 2019.”

According to the TRAI, BARC had ignored its previous directives of publishing ratings and viewership data for television channels. The regulator said that the audience measurement company had argued that disruption due to migration to a new regulatory framework could prevent consumers from gaining access to channels of their choice, thereby running the risk of an inaccurate portrayal of TV consumption trends in the country.

The TRAI, however, is opposed to the idea of not publishing the data, which, it feels, is a true reflection of the market changes. BARC’s decision to "withhold" the data is not justified, the regulator pointed out.

The TRAI also highlighted that BARC "failed to furnish any cogent reason for not publishing the rating and viewership data" and that "such action on part of BARC India reflects poorly on the creditworthiness of the data published by them."

"Now...the authority...hereby directs Broadcast Audience Research Council to immediately release and publish viewership data for the week ending February 8, 2019 and weeks subsequent to it, on its website without any further delay and not to stop it in future also without explicit instruction/direction from the authority or Ministry of Information and Broadcasting...," said the previous TRAI directive

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