New guidelines on rating TV may create rating blackout for country
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India has formulated policy guidelines for Television Rating Agencies to operate in India. These guidelines shall be applicable to all rating agencies providing television rating services in India and shall come into force after 30 days from the date of issuance of the same. The Government notified the guidelines on 16 January and set deadline of 15 February for implementation. But these guidelines have created a lot of furor. WPP-owned Kantar Group, one of the two promoters of TAM Media Research (the only company that offers television ratings at the moment) has gone to court against the ministry's directive. The clause that has bothered Kantar the most is the one that states, “No single company, directly or through its associates, is allowed to hold more than 10 per cent paid up equity in a rating agency if it also holds a stake in a broadcaster, advertiser or advertising agency”. Kantar owed 50 percent stake in TAM Media Research.
On 29 January Delhi High declined to grant a stay on the guidelines on television viewership rating issued by the Government. Instead the court said that the policy decision was made by a statutory body and must be respected. Justice Manmohan Singh however asked Harish Salve, the lawyer representing Kantar Media, “if you want time we will give you time for the implementation, but decline to stay this order.” The case has been adjourned to February 11 now. The court has also agreed to include News Broadcasters Association (NBA) as respondent in the case. The Court directed the government, TRAI and NBA to file counter affidavit within a week. Experts believe that it is very difficult for Kantar to reduce their equity in TAM upto 10 percent within few days. They further say’s that Kantar would need a partner to sell its stake within a few days. CVL Srinivas, CEO, South Asia for WPP-owned Group M, India's largest media buying agency stated that, if the court verdict goes against TAM, the Indian television industry could soon enter a rating blackout. This blackout will affect advertising industries most, because they used rating to buy and sell advertising time on television. Srinivas further says that the guidelines have come into force without the new ratings taking full effect; therefore, they throw the existing system out of gear.
Kantar is seeking relief from the HC by stressing that the guidelines are in violation of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution and infringe on the company’s legal right to earn a livelihood. Also it challenged TRAI’s authority to frame these guidelines. Kantar media stated that no other market in which cross ownership exists including the UK, France and Spain has imposed restrictions on cross ownership between market research agencies like TAM and advertising agencies. It also warned that implementing the guidelines will leave the industry without any television ratings for the entire year. On the other side Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has already expressed its inability in postponing the deadline for implementation of the guidelines. In case of a rating blackout various other possibilities can evolve according to observers. In such a scenario, experts believe that TAM would function as an individual agency and not as a ratings agency and would keep supplying ratings individually as demanded by stakeholders.
Manish Tewari, Information and Broadcasting Minister while addressing a conference organized by the CII said that “the television rating point rules are an attempt to make the process transparent, credible and accountable”. He also spoke about the aberrations in the existing rating system.
Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC)
BARC a joint industry body of broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies and their apex bodies was set up at the behest of the government after frequent complaints about inconsistencies in TAM data. Several broadcasters made complaint against TAM with the Ministry over the issues of small sample size and unauthentic data presented by TAM. Keeping these issues in mind BARC on 16 January 2014 announced a partnership with French media research firm Media metrie to set up an alternative television audience measurement system. Punit Goenka Chaiman of BARC referring to Media metrie said that “Our technical committee and the management had scouted the global marketplace for suitable technology and we are happy with our choice. We will take a quantum jump in technology for audience measurement in the country with this”. For instance, the establishment survey or the universe from which the sample will be chosen has been bought from the Indian Readership Survey, or IRS, at roughly half the cost. Paritosh Joshi, a member of the BARC technical committee stated that BARC has brought pure-play technology companies into the fray instead of the usual agencies.
BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta on the issues of sample size stated that, currently TAM has 9650 people’s meters covering 36000 people. BARC would have 20000 people meters which will cover 84000 people, but at roughly the same cost. He further said that BARC rating also promise the ability to measure time shifted viewing and viewing across different devices (laptops, mobiles et cetera, apart from television). But many experts of this industry criticized the large sample size on the point that larger sample will invariably throw up several unpleasant truths that broadcasters may not like.