A couple of days ago, Mumbai Police has busted a racket where three channels, Republic TV, Fakht Marathi, and Box Cinema allegedly found to be manipulating the Television Rating Points (TRP) and arrested four people in the case. The incident has brought the issue of manipulating the TRPs for commercial profits into the limelight.


In simple words, TRP measures how many people from which socio-economic categories watched which channels for how much time during a particular time. This time can be an hour, a day, or even a week. Therefore, TRP measures viewership which in turn drives advertising revenues. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), defines the importance of TRP as “On the basis of audience measurement data, ratings are assigned to various programmes on television. Television ratings in turn influence programmes produced for the viewers. Better ratings would promote a programme while poor ratings will discourage a programme. Incorrect ratings will lead to the production of programmes which may not be really popular while good programmes may be left out.”


As TRP represents viewership, the more the viewership, the more advertisements a channel gets. So, it’s all about commercial profits and money. A show with higher TRPs has a bigger audience and therefore the advertisers are willing to pay the TV channels to advertise on it.


The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) is an industry body, jointly owned by advertisers, ad agencies, and broadcasting companies and is represented by The Indian Society of Advertisers, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, and the Advertising Agencies Association of India. BARC was created in 2010 but it was in 2014 that the I&B Ministry notified the Policy Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies. In July 2015, the ministry registered BARC under these guidelines to carry out television ratings in India.


BARC has installed ‘BAR-O meters in around 45,000 houses and these houses are classified into 12 categories under the New Consumer Classification System (NCCS). These categories are based on the education level of the main wage earner and the ownership of consumer durable by these families ranging from the electricity connection to a car. Every member in the household has a separate ID, so, while watching any show, the members of the households register their presence and therefore, the ID button captures the separate duration for which the channel was watched and by whom. This provides separate data on the viewership habits across age and socio-economic groups. At present, around 45,000 households, spread across the country are surveyed by BARC that estimates the viewing habit of around 84 crore viewers and of around 20 crore TV households.


If broadcasters are able to find the households where the devices are installed, they can either bribe the people to watch their channels or they can ask the cable operators or multi-system operators to make sure that their channel is available as the ‘landing page’ whenever the TV is switched on. For TRPs, what the entire country is watching is not relevant, but what is important is what these 45,000 households are watching and only this represent the TV viewership of the entire country. Therefore, it’s very easy for the broadcasters to fudge the actual viewership, once they target these households. In 2018, in a consultation paper, TRAI said that absence of any specific law that penalizes the agents that tampers TRPs is one of the biggest challenges. Therefore, what we need is a stringent law that regulates the TRP and punishes who manipulates it.

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