Broadcasters cheer, as TRPs for news channels to resume after regulatory reboot

Suspended since Oct 2020, the ratings would now be released on a monthly basis.

Mumbai: After a year-long wait, the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) on Wednesday finally gave its go-ahead to Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India to immediately resume ratings for TV news channels, giving broadcasters a reason to cheer in the new year.

As per the order, Barc India will have to release ratings for news and niche genres on a ‘four-week rolling average concept’ with immediate effect. But first, it will be required to share the last three months’ data which is expected to give some direction to news channels, and advertisers who had been taking a shot in the dark.

“I welcome the government’s decision to finally resume ratings for the news genre,” said TV9 Network CEO Barun Das, terming the monthly ratings as the need of the hour. “I have for long been advocating the need to restore ratings while questioning the suspension decision in the first place. News Broadcasters Federation’s (NBF’s) efforts in this direction have been exemplary.”

In February 2021, over 50 TV news channels had written to the then I&B minister Prakash Javadekar questioning the decision to single out the news genre for suspension.  “News genre commands 12 per cent of the total viewership and 18 per cent revenue of the industry. So, why is that the rating system which is bad for roughly 12 per cent of the TV industry, good for the rest 88 per cent?” Das had written in a separate letter.

Also read: “Lakhs of livelihood at stake,” TV9 urges MIB to resume TRPs

Also read : Over 50 TV news channels write to MIB over suspension of TRPs

In a bid to restore confidence in Barc ratings, the I&B ministry also assured channels that the TV measurement body has undertaken revision in its processes, protocols, oversight mechanism and initiated changes in the governance structure. “The reconstitution of the Board and the Technical Committee to allow for the induction of Independent Members have also been initiated by Barc.  A permanent Oversight Committee has also been formed. The access protocols for data have been revamped and tightened,” the ministry stated.

Taking a step further, MIB has also set up a ‘Working Group’ under the chairmanship of the Prasar Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati for the consideration of leveraging the Return Path Data (RPD) capabilities for the use of TRP services, as recommended by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the TRP Committee Report. The group will submit its report in four months’ time.

“Happy that exactly a year later, the recommendations of the TRP committee report have been accepted by MIB India. Thankful to fellow members of the committee for the hard work put in. Looking forward to achieving cross-industry consensus on the use of Return Path Data (RPD) for TRPs,” tweeted Prasar Bharati CEO.

Also read: I&B ministry forms Joint Working Group for audience measurement sampling

The announcement was also welcomed by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). In a statement, one of the members of the association, who is CEO of a news channel said, “NBA’s stand is vindicated as ministry stamps the room for improvement, acknowledges the deficiencies, and puts a timeline to ratings’ release and systematic corrections.”

The news broadcasters also gave a thumbs up to the transition from weekly to monthly ratings. “I’m very much in favour of monthly ratings. I think news channels’ content cannot be moulded on the basis of ratings, like the way GECs content can be moulded,” said a senior representative from a national news channel. “The sole purpose of ratings is to give a measuring base to advertisers, and they take a minimum of two to three months to establish a fair and equitable representation of true trends. So, we don’t need ratings on a weekly basis.”

According to industry representatives, the new ‘four-week rolling average concept’ will also be better equipped to deal with inconsistencies related to inadequate sample size.

While the decision to scrap out weekly ratings got a positive response, some industry veterans also suggested that releasing news ratings quarterly or twice in a year would be a better proposition. “The global news industry is transforming itself into a “news product” that people can pay for. Ideally, the news genre should be subscription-oriented, as most newspapers are now these days. Globally too, that’s the trend – shifting to an advertising-driven, pay-TV model,” he said.

The ministry's go-ahead comes just weeks ahead of an intense election season in five states, including an electoral battle for India’s most populous state. With news channels, all geared up to grab maximum eyeballs, it will be interesting to see how the latest system of news ratings will change the game, especially with several new channels entering the race. “We will have to see whether the scenario has actually changed over the last year or not. But, hopefully, it will only get better from here,” said a senior representative from a news channel.

The overhaul in the television rating system in India kickstarted in October 2020 when Mumbai Police claimed in a press briefing that they probed a case of manipulation of TRPs and found some incriminating evidence. The police said the accused were allegedly bribing the households to keep a particular channel running, leading to several arrests, and FIRs against three news channels.

The controversy had forced Barc India to temporarily suspend the publishing of weekly data for news channels, which remained in limbo for over 1.3 years. “A pause was necessitated to enable the industry and Barc India to work closely to review its already stringent protocols and further augment them," the then Barc India chairman Punit Goenka had said.

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