Urgent need to reform TV audience measurement

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The annual revenue of the television industry is approximately Rs. 50,000 crore. More than 25% of the revenue comes from advertising. Television ratings have significantly impacted the broadcaster–the programme content, media agencies and the advertisers. There is almost unanimous assessment that the present system of TAM-TRP inadequately serves the larger public interest. Recognising these inadequacies, the ministry of information and broadcasting (MoIB)had sought recommendations from Trai in January 2008 to revamp the framework, including operational criteria. The said letter had specifically narrated the deficiencies and required Trai to suggest guidelines for re-farming the rating system. The rating process suffered from inadequate sample size, uneven treatment of rural and urban audience, totally inadequate geographic representation, antiquated technology and a lack of transparency.

The international experience is a largely industry-led, self-regulatory process. In India, the industry took a major step of forming the Broadcast Audience Research Council. However, it is yet to fulfill the broad objectives as the selection of rating agencies, working methodology and market research have not taken off. With the emergence of a digital platform as announced by the government, it is imperative that the data is captured in a scientific manner using addressability features of various modes of broadcasting. In order to achieve the broader objective of unbiased rating, there is a strong case for issuing guidelines by MoIB. The Italian Communication Authority has given guidelines on Television Audience Measurement. Such guidelines need to address the design of the panel proportionate to the population. A certain degree of sensitivity will be required to capture the preferences of age, social class, gender, occupation, status, etc. Perhaps the regulator could be entrusted with the audit of the rating agencies in terms of the quality improvement in the service. It is also important to ensure that the work of the rating technology and the measurement devices operate on a variety of platforms. The role of the ministry would be critical at the incubation stage and the industry-led body should not hesitate to formalise a memorandum of understanding with MoIB.

The choice of rating agency is critical to the measurement performance. MoIB could lay down the performance obligations, including disclosure of operational and ethical standards. The selection of panel households would largely determine the quality of the final product. This can be achieved through an establishment survey reflecting the population and their characteristics. The broadcasters, while recognising the need for systemic improvement, have shown little enthusiasm for any kind of role by MoIB. It is important for the broadcaster to recognise the Harris Committee Report of the US, which recommends a greater role for government regulation in case the programme of self-regulation is substantially deficient and incapable of achieving the objectives. Self-regulation needs to ensure improvement in quality and method of rating system, highest ethical standards, discourage unfair practices and enforce the norms laid down by the regulator. The current features of content rating have contributed little to the standards of broadcasting.

(This article was published in the Financial Express on 3rd August, 2012)

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