New Delhi: India’s telecom and broadcast regulator has made it mandatory for all television rating agencies to register with the government and increase the minimum sample size for audience measurement to 50,000 households in a few years, seeking to make the ratings more credible and accurate.

Rating agencies have to comply with the guidelines within six months of them being cleared by the government. For non-compliance with certain key provisions, the agencies could face penalties of up to Rs1 crore, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in its recommendations released on Wednesday.

The guidelines come after the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) requested Trai to provide its views on issues related to guidelines and an accreditation mechanism for television rating agencies. On 17 April, Trai issued a consultation paper to seek comments from stakeholders.

All rating agencies, including TAM Media Research, which now provides the ratings, will be required to obtain a registration from MIB and “shall be granted registration subject to their meeting the eligibility norms," Trai said.

It also recommended that the minimum sample size for audience measurement—a contentious issue between advertisers and broadcasters—be increased from 9,602 households now.

“A minimum panel size of 20,000 to be implemented within six months of the guidelines coming into force. Thereafter, the panel size shall be increased by 10,000 every year until it reaches the figure of 50,000. The panel of homes has to remain representative of all television households in the country," Trai said.

Rahul Khullar, chairman, Trai, said the television rating system in India had collapsed.

“We have a terrible television rating agency and we have a terrible television rating system," he said. “Everywhere else in the world you have a first class TV rating system which rates channels accurately and tells the broadcasters consumers like certain shows and don't like certain shows... In India, this system has completely collapsed. Everybody is in the dark because we have a faulty rating system. The faults of that rating system are well-known and have been well-known for the last 10 years."

TAM declined to comment.

Trai also proposed restrictions on “substantial equity holding of 10% or more" between rating agencies and other stakeholders such as broadcasters and advertisers. “You cannot have any interested party controlling the ratings," said Khullar. The regulator also supported self-regulation through an industry body like Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).

BARC would be required to meet part of the eligibility criteria, but exempted from most other guidelines.

To ensure compliance of the new guidelines, Trai has recommended heavy penalties.

“Non-compliance of guidelines on cross-holding, methodology, secrecy, privacy, audit, public disclosure and reporting requirements shall lead to a penalty of Rs1 crore in the first instance, and, in the second instance shall lead to cancellation of registration. For other guidelines, the penal provisions shall be a graduated financial penalty of Rs10 lakh to Rs1 crore for the first three instances of non-compliance and, for the fourth instance, cancellation of registration," Trai said in its recommendations.

Trai has asked the ministry of information and broadcasting to notify the guidelines in two months.

BARC welcomed Trai’s viewpoint. “As far as BARC is concerned, our thinking is in line with the recommendations issued by the Trai. We just have to get ourselves registered which is not a contentious issue at all," said Shashi Sinha, chairperson, technical committee, BARC.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation industry grouping said the fineprint of the Trai recommendations is still under scrutiny. “Trai has seconded self regulation and is in favour of a multi-industry body such as BARC. The detailed recommendations need to be understood more clearly to figure out implementation hurdles if any," said Shailesh Shah, secretary general of the Foundation.