Giving a major push to television viewership measurement in the country, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India announced a tie-up with cable TV distributor DEN Networks recently. The council stated that it will measure TV viewership using return path data (RPD) via DEN’s digital set-top boxes. Interestingly, this is a new way of measuring viewership for Barc. Right now, Barc’s meters—which it calls BAR-O-meters— fetch data directly from the TV channels by watermarking the audio. There are 30,000 meters that are constantly listening to what is being seen. It has embedded audio tracks in all the channels—more than 560—that it monitors. For instance, if you tune into Star Plus, it starts emanating a silent (to human ear) audio which Barc’s BAR-O-meter listens to. For measurement, the BAR-O-meter does not require the channel number, but only the channel audio.
Now when it starts measuring audiences through set-top boxes, Barc needs to ensure that the boxes are two-way—that is, they have a return path. So in the case of DEN, it will monitor set-top boxes which have hardware and software that makes them two-way. When the boxes have a return path, they are easily measurable. So if you tune into Star Sports and then switch to Doordarshan, the back-end server registers the change.
Explaining the process, Partho Dasgupta, chief executive at Barc India, says that his company will use a certain number of DEN Networks’ set-top boxes installed in TV homes to collect viewership data. This will be done by enabling viewership information (that is, which channel is being watched, for how long and when) to flow back from the set-top boxes. “Hence the name return path data. This will be household- level TV viewing information, as opposed to the individual-level data that we collect from our panel homes," he says.
Ashok Mansukhani, a cable industry veteran as well as the CEO and managing director of Hinduja Ventures Ltd, the holding company of Hinduja Group’s media firms, says that to provide RPD, DEN would have already ensured that its set-top boxes can return information about subscribers’ viewing behaviour in a timely and accurate manner. “While theoretically DEN can process this data itself, it is a smart move to use Barc, as the agency has got proven skills in audience measurement and has high credibility," he says. The benefits of this new way of collecting audience data will accrue to all the stakeholders. For starters, the cable distribution and direct-to-home (DTH) companies with which Barc is likely to partner in the future will enjoy several advantages. Currently most cable and DTH operators do not have information on how their subscribers consume content—not even on their in-house film and video-on-demand (VoD) channels. RPD will give them access to content consumption patterns across channels. Says Neelkamal Sharma, chief operating officer (buying) at Madison Media: “Tie-ups with cable and DTH companies will help peek into DTH household data viewership as we currently don’t have access to their in-house channels’ and VoD channels’ viewership. Since DTH covers a significant number of television households now, this information will help to learn more about its viewership pattern, which will be useful for advertisers to explore it as an option."
Mansukhani feels that multisystem operators (or large cable networks) will get a better idea of which channels are being watched as the industry moves out of forced bundling of channels to an à la carte regime. The new data will enable them in subscriber management, packaging opportunities and in driving advertising revenue. Broadcasters and advertisers will profit too as they get audience viewing information in a more detailed format; the advertisers will know how ads are consumed both demographically and regionally.
According to Dasgupta, RPD will also help in expanding Barc’s sample size. “This will make our data more robust. Going forward as we expand our partnership to more platform owners, we will be able to up the panel home size from current 30,000 to 150,000-200,000. This will give us scale and also help reduce the issue of panel infiltration," he says. Typically, a larger sample size helps offer more accurate viewership for channels with smaller markets shares. Madison’s Sharma says that “given our heterogeneous country, increasing panel size will always give more accurate viewership trends across various TG (target groups) based on demographic cuts and different town-class cuts across states".
In fact, the enlarged sample size “will also make panel home infiltration and tampering more difficult, as those indulging in such activity would have to deal with a much larger number of homes, thereby defeating their economics. They will also not know data from which homes are actually being used by our system in the back end", explains Dasgupta.
According to Mansukhani, a deal between Barc and NXT Digital is also on the cards. NXT Digital is the headend-in-the-sky venture of the Hinduja Group that reaches out to nearly 900 towns in rurban and rural India which is the new exciting digital frontier, he feels. The deal will help Barc and broadcasters to reach out to rural India, he says.
Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.