Saturday, 21 June 2008

Regulating Television Ratings

Indian viewers started their journey with two channels in 1991, now have crossed the mark of 300 channels and are at 313 as on 16th January, 2008.The number of channels is expected to reach 465 by the end of the 11th Plan. This has resulted in the battle for the eyeballs becoming more fierce amongst the broadcasters.
Convergence of technologies is redefining TV viewing. Technological upgradation is therefore constantly required in the measurement devices and sampling designs are also needed to take care of these developments which at present are not taken care of in our country and this is the reason TRP system in the country is under fire. 
Shortcomings of the present system
There is hardly any analysis in the media about these TRPs, as to whose instance they are being compiled, what methodology they are using and with what reliability, and as to their very relevance in the context of changing media scene and unique viewing situation in the homes.
The seriousness of the issue can be judged from the recent statement of the I&B minister P.R.Dasmunsi in the Lok Sabha, that he had been threatened five times for attempting to revamp the TRP system. He did not disclose who threatened him but said there was a powerful lobby supporting the present faulty TRP system.

TRAI consultation paper and open house discussion
Considering the seriousness of the issue TRAI issued the consultation paper on “policy guidelines for TRP on March 28, 2008 and had sought written comments from stakeholders. In their response major broadcasting bodies had opposed government intervention in the area of television rating points. However, in the open house discussions on the above consultation paper organized by the TRAI on 16th May, 2008 TRAI chairperson Nirpendra Misra clarified that issuance of consultation paper on TRP was not an attempt to regulate the market sector, but to assess how transparent the present rating system was. TRAI had received a feed back which was stated by Mr A K Sawhney that TAM was giving gifts and TV sets to subscribers to install meters in their homes. However L V Krishnan of TAM justified it by saying that giving gifts was necessary as without that it would be difficult for them to install the meters in any home. 
TAM stuck to the point that the industry is well capable and has been performing a professional task of ensuring that they govern the TV ratings service as per the needs of the users. Even the broadcasters and the apex body of ad agencies, AAAI also expressed that a joint industry body comprising of representatives from broadcasters, ad agencies and advertisers was adequate to look after the rating system rather than any government intervention. They proposed setting up of BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) with an investment of Rs 1 billion for setting up an independent TV ratings measurement system. In it broadcasters will put in Rs 800 million, ad agencies Rs 100 million and the advertisers Rs 50 million.
BARC president Pradeep Guha commented, “We will be spending Rs 1 billion for setting up the system. The attempt is to make system that is fair, transparent and applicable for all stakeholders. The current system is dissatisfactory and the sample size and spread is inadequate”.
Mrs Roop Sharma commented that lack of transparency created possibilities of manipulations in the TRP system followed by TAM. 
Mrs. Sharma also explained that the TRP system, the way it is followed in India can infect the society in an epidemic manner, making the consumer a slave of the television content. When 90% of channels are showing a content appealing more to the baser instincts of human beings, we are literally infecting the minds of all those watching these programmes.
Mr. Joshi from Total TV said that since television in India is a family viewing, we can not say that if a viewer does not like a programme he can switch off the TV set, a statement often made by the broadcasters when their programmes are criticised.
Prof S K Khanna from consumer organisationVOICE emphasized that cosumers were highly effected by the TRPs directly. They had to bear with similar programmes on all channels because one such programme got a high TRP on a channel. As an example, when Sa Re Ga Ma Pa became popular and received high TRP, all other channels started dishing out similar singing competition programmes and almost at the same time. So the consumer is left with no choice. Not only this, even the news channels start repeating these programmes with their comments, calling them news and current happenings.
Mrs. Roop Sharma further clarified the point by explaining that the TRPs effect 3 things directly, namely:- Content, Sale of inferior products and Pay TV subscriptions paid by the consumer.
Content: Since there is no addressability and CAS and the cable systems are analog, cable operators and consumers are sold content in bouquets of different channels, generally comprising of one or two driver channels and the rest ordinary to least popular ones.
Consumers have no choice, Due to competition between all channels, entertainment content as well as news are some times fabricated, manufactured or presented in a manner that gets the channel high TRPs. Thus sex and violence has become a part of every type of TV content, be it a TV serial with scheming women or a news item about a sex crime or murder.
This has resulted in programmes like astrological predictions, horror episodes, Religious Preachers, crude form of comedies, superstitions etc getting time slots on all the TV channels. TRPs make a broadcaster forget his social responsibilities as a media. Only commercialism survives. 
Selling Inferior Products : It was also brought out during the discussions that if Advertisers, Ad Agencies and the Rating agency connive with each other, they can influence the masses in to buying inferior products too. Time and again government has banned different product advertisements or certain programmes but they again appear in a different manner. No amount of self regulations have stopped surrogate or titillating advertisements. Broadcasters and Ad agencies talk of self regulations only when they are pulled up by the government and are threatened with some government regulations.
Increase in Subscription Rates for Pay TV. When ever a programme or an event achieves high TRPs, the concerned broadcaster increases the subscription rate of his channel and black-mails the MSO/ cable operator by switching off his decoder if enhanced payments are not made. Thus if a channel wants to hike its subscription rate, it will try to manipulate its TRPs or bring a programme like cricket match for a few days and enjoy hiked rates for the times to come.
Sadly, cable operators in the far off places do not have an easy approach to TDSAT or TRAI to redress their grievances and are left with no option but to tow the line of the broadcaster shelling out more money to him. This further forces consumers to pay more for the cable connections.
Cable operators and consumer representatives requested TRAI for an overseeing government body to monitor and control the TRP system and also introduce competition by allowing other agencies who wish to work in this field nation- wide or region- wide. 
Other suggestions made to the Regulator included-
• If manipulation of TRPs is proved it should be made a criminal offence punishable with exemplary punishment.
• Regulations for the broadcasters and Pay Channel prices must be finalized soon by TRAI to stream line the system.
• CAS implementation and Digitalisation of cable networks should be encouraged all over India so that the whole TV viewership system becomes transparent and is not dependent on the TRP ratings. 
• People meter and other equipment involved in measuring television ratings should be approved by a technical body like BECIL and should be standardized by BIS. 
• Samples from all states must be included while evaluating TRPs. Rural and semi urban areas should also be fairly represented.
• People meters should be rotated every three months to maintain security of the sample households.
• No advertiser, ad agency or broadcasting company to have a stake in any rating agency.
• Fee charged by the rating agencies should also be controlled so that even smaller broadcasters can afford the same. Also DD channels be included while measuring the TRPs.
• Summary of ratings and viewership statistics must be provided to consumer organizations and COFI free of cost by the rating agencies.
• Till the time pay channel distribution is streamlined with proper regulations, broadcasters must take approval of TRAI to increase their connectivity for payment purpose by the cable operators and MSOs. 
Prof. S.R. Khanna of consumer organization VOICE commented that the system must conform to a regulatory oversight and must address all upcoming platforms, including DTH & IPTV.


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