The Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India has started the exercise of collaborating with direct-to-home (DTH) and cable operators to measure viewership patterns of their set-top boxes. The television audience measurement agency Barc India has rolled out its pilot projects with its current partners, including DEN Networks, Airtel Digital TV and Siti Cable. “We are in discussion with more cable and DTH firms and hope to get them on board soon," says Partho Dasgupta, chief executive officer at Barc India.

Right now, the operators Barc has tied up with are working with their technology partners to make set-top boxes return path data (RPD) ready. As mentioned in this column earlier, before Barc can start measuring the boxes, the cable and DTH firms will have to make their set top boxes RPD ready. This means that the set-top boxes will have to be two-way—they need a return path.

The process is called return path data as the viewership information—such as what channel is being watched and for how long—flows back from the set-top boxes. The back-end server registers the channels you tune into or switch to. DTH and cable firms can process the information themselves but it benefits them to get it processed by Barc, which has proven skills in the area. This additional data accessed from set-top boxes will allow DTH operators to understand how their subscribers consume content especially on their in-house video-on-demand channels.

There are many benefits of RPD both for Barc and the users of viewership data. For Barc, the biggest advantage of using RPD ready set-top boxes is that this methodology to boost its sample size will work out “significantly" cheaper. For instance, if a Barc meter costs approximately 25,000, making the set-top box RPD ready will come at a fraction of that cost. Right now, Barc has a sample size of 30,000 meters.

According to Dasgupta, the mandated panel home size, which is measured through a Barc meter, as per the ministry of information and broadcasting is 50,000. “However, we have always believed that with the size, scale and diversity that India offers, one cannot stop at that." But he agrees that recruiting and maintaining a panel home as well as seeding BAR-o-Meters (as Barc meters are called) comes at a high price, which acts as an inhibitor.

“It is for this that we decided to take the return path data (RPD) route to upscale the panel home size. RPD clubbed with the current data from panel homes will help the TV industry get access to deeper and far richer insights into TV viewing behaviour in the most cost-effective manner," he says.

Television viewership measurement in every country is sample-based, which means television viewing behaviour collected from sample homes is then extrapolated to the universe of television viewing individuals.

The strength of the system Barc India has set up with its current 30,000 sample homes is visible in the data which responds to external or internal changes, says Dasgupta. Having said that, a bigger sample pool will help in making the data far more robust than it currently is. “The plan is to partner platform owners who will help us upscale the panel home size to 200,000 plus. The advantage of having a larger sample pool is that it reduces relative error, thus giving more robust data for niche channels," he says.

In a recent presentation, Barc said it was looking to measure 40,000 set-top boxes with each of the partners it has tied up with. This means it will draw data from these homes. Advertising agencies making media plans for clients are happy with the prospect of a wider sample. Neel Kamal Sharma, chief operating officer (buying) at Madison Media, says: “30,000 panel homes is very good for any TV measurement country but given the heterogeneity and vastness of our country, more panel homes will give sharper viewership trends by different cuts which is the key for media planning. Needless to say, that it will reduce errors."

He feels that it may be sometime before Barc is able to actually provide data from the expanded sample size of 200,000 homes using cable and DTH set-top boxes, but it will make much more robust data base for viewership and will help in peeping into households whose viewership patterns are untapped.

Clearly, the entire industry stands to benefit once Barc merges data collected through RPD with data from people panel homes—which Sharma feels will be a big challenge. However, it will improve the robustness and accuracy of data, especially for small and regional channels.

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.

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