Home > industry > media > In trial run, BARC to install meters to gauge TV viewing data from next week

New Delhi: Starting next week, audience measurement meters will be installed in some 22,000 houses across India to capture the viewership habits of television watchers—part of an exercise to put in place a transparent and reliable television ratings system.

Hansa Research, the market research firm that used to conduct the readership study for the newspaper industry earlier, has been given the task of installing these meters to pull viewership data from Indian television homes.

“In the trial run, we are likely to begin with 100 meters to check out their functioning. The households are being finalized based on the sample design. Our function will be panel recruitment and panel management," said Ashok Das, managing director of Hansa Research.

Hansa is just one of the partners that the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) has signed up to take care of the different processes involved in audience measurement.

BARC, the joint broadcasting industry body set up in 2012, is responsible for designing, commissioning, supervising and owning India’s TV audience measurement system. The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), the Indian Broadcasting Foundation and the Indian Society of Advertisers are shareholders in BARC India.

BARC was formed after broadcasters complained of inaccuracies and anomalies in data provided by India’s only audience measurement agency, TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between consumer information and insights firm Nielsen and Kantar Media, owned by WPP Plc., the London-based advertising and publication company. While several channels stopped using TAM numbers, news broadcaster NDTV Ltd challenged the veracity of its viewership data in a New York court to claim damages.

TV ratings are important for broadcasters because they are used by media buyers to determine what channels to advertise on. Television accounts for 44% of ad spending in India, which is projected to touch 18,883 crore in 2014, according to estimates by media agency GroupM.

The exercise is starting amid rumours of snags and delays in the project that was scheduled to take off in October.

“Yes, there have been delays, but this is such a large and complex project that requires immense coordination among vendors," Das said.

The audience measurement meters will be connected to BARC servers where the viewership data will be collected and analysed. After a month-long trial, the full-fledged installation of the locally made meters will begin in September, depending on their availability.

“We want to test the meters under all kinds of conditions in different parts of the country and make sure that the data flowing is correct and validated, and that the stakeholders are satisfied before we release it commercially," explained Partho Dasgupta, chief executive officer of BARC.

For starters, the company has sealed deals with 26 vendor partners including France’s Mediametrie for meter software; Civolution, a French-Dutch company for watermarking technology; and Netmagic/Insight for IT infrastructure including the data centre, servers and leased lines to pull and store viewership information.

To improve the viewership monitoring processes, the government approved the guidelines and accreditation mechanism for television ratings agencies in India, proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, facilitating the birth of BARC.

To be sure, accurate audience measurement is critical as the ratings it assigns indicate the popularity of a channel or a programme. These ratings influence the programmes produced for the viewers. So, while incorrect ratings may reflect good numbers for bad or unpopular shows, good or popular content may suffer from inaccurate data.

Among several other things, BARC promises precision. This, it said, will be made possible by a much larger sample size—20,000 homes in the first phase opposed to TAM’s 9,600 homes. (Hansa said it will install meters in 22,000 homes, but measure 20,000). However, the 20,000 meters of first phase will not be sufficient in the long run. “So we have opted for method where we can scale (to 50,000 meters) without burning up big money," said Dasgupta.

Besides, these meters will capture and deliver data in real time. That is not all. BARC claims its data will be credible owing to the Chinese walls between different operations, leaving little room for leakages and tampering. The processes are designed in such a way that the left hand doesn’t know what right hand is doing, Dasgupta claimed. “Hence, someone who knows the homes (and very few will know very few homes) doesn’t have access to data—and someone who sees the data doesn’t know which homes it’s coming from. It’s all coded with locked algorithms. So effectively it’s not just different—it’s a new way to do things," he added.

Since BARC will cover more homes, the data derived is expected to be deeper, wider and richer. According to M.G. Parameswaran, adviser at Draftfcb Ulka and the newly-elected president of AAAI, media agencies will be able to analyse data in greater depth.

“Currently, the sample size is small and we cannot do certain cuts. For instance, there is not enough data on socio-economic classification. So we cannot do a cut on English news," said Parameswaran who, as president of AAAI, will soon be inducted onto the BARC board.

Aseem Vohra, partner at consulting firm Grant Thornton India Llp, said, “Broadcasters’ single-point agenda is to maximize ad revenue while advertisers’ main aim is to minimize advertising spend. This will be possible as the sample size goes up and error margins decline."

According to the Ficci-KPMG media report of 2013, there are 154 million cable and satellite TV homes in India. In 2017, this number is expected to touch 191 million.

Vohra said the evolution of BARC will also take care of the perceived conflict of interest that was an issue with TAM. The new government norms mandate that no individual entity can either directly or indirectly have 10% or more of paid-up equity in both rating agency and a broadcaster, advertiser or advertising agency.

Consequently, TAM’s future hangs in the balance, as it is 50% owned by Kantar which, in turn, is part of WPP. BARC, on the other hand, is jointly owned by industry associations of advertisers, advertising agencies and broadcasters.

BARC also dismissed rumours that it lacked finances to see the project through. Funding has been raised through bank debt, duly securitized by guarantees from all three shareholder constituents.

“Financing was a big challenge for a company like ours, but we have crossed that hill. The three constituents are chipping in proportionate to the shareholding," said Dasgupta, without divulging either the project cost or the shareholding percentage.

Broadcasters are investing over 100 crore in embedding-related equipment. This is over and above their expenditure on the project, he claimed.

Yet, the progress is slow and the project is poorly managed, critics claim. The project launch seems to have moved from October to the end of the year. Eric Salama, CEO, Kantar Media, the part-owner of TAM, said there was no way BARC would be operational on 1 October when it said it would.

“In fact, I doubt very much if they will be up and running in the next six-nine months. It’s a much harder task than people think," he said. On TAM’s future plan, he said “the ambition is to continue to be part of the industry, going forward".

Some broadcasters are also disillusioned with the communication or lack of it, from BARC. A news channel head, who declined to be named, said there was little information available on the developments of the ratings system: “We do not know the product, benefits or the road map for the new system," he said. “Besides, we are being pushed to buy a particular software from a particular firm even when it is available at a lower cost from others."

The channels must buy this software if they want their signals to be read by the meters being measured in cable homes.

But sceptics do not faze Dasgupta. “When you are out to develop a greenfield system, which is arguably the biggest global audience measurement system in the world, there are bound to be challenges. So, while we are not ready yet, we’re doing all that is required to ensure a transparent, reliable audience measurement system," he said.

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