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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is expected to release a white paper on television audience measurement metrics this week, discussing perceived gaps in the system and offering suggestions for improving it.

The report comes at the request of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

“We have completed the process of consultation with stakeholders and will release the white paper on current TV measurement systems this week," confirmed Trai adviser M.C. Chaube. “Our question: Is there a need or not to regulate TV measurement systems in this country? After we release the white paper, we will ask for opinions from stakeholders...then give our final recommendations to the I&B ministry, based on which policy decisions may be taken."

TV audience measurement in India is largely conducted by TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, which runs the world’s largest panel of people meters in India. It remains a critical, albeit increasingly controversial system amid a surge in television channels.

Relook: A showroom selling television sets. The government is looking at ways to improve audience measurement metrics. (Madhu Kapparath / Mint)

The broadcasting industry has been generally wary of government intervention in TV audience measurement. Members of the Broadcasters Audience Research Council, or Barc, a nascent industry group, met on 19 March to discuss how to respond to any such suggestions.

“This is one area where the government should not interfere in," said one member, adding, “It’s an area unknown to them and they have vested interests."

Because of the growing number of politicians and political parties that are backing or getting directly involved in commercial television in India, especially in states such as Tamil Nadu, there has been a growing concern about the real reason why some quarters of the government want to rethink TV audience measurement. Advertisers tend to be greatly influenced by such data, and new or upstart channels are often keen to say that existing measurement systems are inadequate.

While it is not uncommon for regulators and ratings bodies to have links, “ratings are primarily a device to help advertisers and commercial broadcasters quantify the reach of their advertising and programming. It is best that they are authorized by industry bodies, such as Barc,’’ says Paritosh Joshi, president of Star India Pvt. Ltd and a member of Barc.

There has also been speculation that Barc itself could be looking at getting into audience measurement by investing Rs85 crore for a new ratings body and installing some 500,000 people meters.

But Pradeep Guha, chairman of Barc and CEO, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, says the Council isn’t installing any people meters. “What’s happening is that an RFP (request for proposal) will be floated shortly asking for bids from various research agencies to set up a new measurement system, and an extensive baseline study will be undertaken,’’ he says.

TAM Media’s CEO LV Krishnan would only note the ratings have served Indian advertising industry for 10 years and it will continue to adhere to any guidelines set by industry bodies such as Barc.

Some media buyers and broadcasters also speculate that the government’s interest in potentially regulating TV audience measurement could also be driven by the thinking that ratings—and ad revenues—of national broadcaster Prasad Bharti Broadcasting Corporation of India, which provides Doordarshan television, could increase if viewership was measured in rural and semi-urban areas currently not covered by TAM.

Thakur Hansda, joint director- audience research, Doordarshan says that the government’s intervention is indeed timely. “Everyone knows that Doordarshan’s coverage and viewership is extensive, since it covers both urban and rural areas. Since TAM only monitors 100,000 plus (population) towns, one can assume that villages and smaller towns are not important enough for them and advertisers base their decisions on these parameters. I think that this entire commercial system needs some revision."

Chandradeep Mitra, president of OMS, the media arm of Mudra Group, says that 75% of households that have access to both Doordarshan and cable prefer watching cable channels instead and that advertisers prefer to put ad monies on private entertainment channels because they offer a better audience.

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