The news media is left in a mess after the Broadcast Audience Research Council(BARC) ceased all weekly ratings for news channels for the next three months. This action by BARC was in response to the exposition of the TRP manipulation scam by the Republic news channel and two other lesser-known channels – Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi. Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh said in a press conference on the 8th of October, that they had received a complaint from the Hansa Research company, a contractor to the BARC and that a TRP manipulation scam has been exposed.
What are TRP ratings?
TRP stands for Television Rating Points. TRP is essentially a tool to measure the popularity of a channel and its programs. Meters called ‘barometers’ are installed in households and these meters are used to collect TRP data. A particular number of houses are selected in each city and barometers are installed. Currently, there are over 45,000 barometers across the county.The TRP rating has a direct influence on the revenue of a channel. The odds of a news channel getting advertisements or investment offers depend on its TRP rating. A channel with high TRP receives more offers and vice-versa.
The TRP can be manipulated, by identifying the households equipped with the sensors and keeping the television tuned to a channel for the maximum amount of time. Mumbai police commissioner said that households were paid Rs.400 to 500 to watch the same channel for the whole day. This would require knowledge of the houses with the meters and the data seems to have been leaked during BARC’s recent barometer installation plan. The BARC had planned to install additional barometers in Mumbai and Hansa research got the contract. Hansa’s latest complaint was followed by its findings that a few ex-employees have exploited the data of the locations of the barometers. Mumbai police followed the trails and found the names of three channels – Republic, Box Cinema, and the Fakt Marathi. Officials of Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi were arrested and the top officials at Republic were summoned for investigation.Six people have been arrested so far.
The Republic countered the accusations and claimed they were an attempt to frame the channel. It claimed that the government was attempting to smear its reputation in response to Republic’s aggressive coverage of the Mumbai government and police in the past few months. The Shiv Sena took hold of the opportunity and demanded a probe into the scam. Shiv Sena spokesperson, Sanjay Raut demanded toknowthe source of funds used for the TRP bribing of households. He also accused that BJP was behind this scam and had funded the entire act. He also took the opportunity to criticize the BJP about its aggressive social media campaigning techniques. Following the investigation, Republic took to the Supreme court to challenge the police investigation. But the SC denied the plea and suggested Republic take the plea to the Bombay High Court. The SC also criticized the Mumbai police commissioner, Param Bir Singh for providing ‘interviews’ on ongoing investigations.
On the 18th of October, Republic revealed a private mail communication from BARC to the Republic media. Republic claimed that BARC has confirmed that Republic was in no way connected to the scam. In response, BARC expressed its disapproval of Republic’s usage of the mail saying, “BARC India is highly disappointed with the actions of the Republic Network by disclosing private and confidential communications and misrepresenting the same”. Despite this, Republic has continued blaming the Mumbai government and the Mumbai police for trying to frame the Republic. It also accused Param Bir of working hand in hand with the Shiv Sena in an attempt to ruin the channel.
This is not the first time a channel has attempted to tamper with the TRP. It’s a scam that has been going on ever since barometers were devised as a method of tracking TRP. The former director-general of Doordarshan, S.Y.Quraishi says how the scam dates back 20 years. TAM and INTAM were the two rating agencies that existed back then. The first signs of a scam came to light when TAM declared a private channel known as ‘sab se tez’ with 4 percent share as number one channel despite DD news owning 92 percent of prime-time share. Upon investigation, it was found that households with meters were given incentives such as pressure cooker and dining sets. This method has not evolved much over the years except the form of incentive. It was not until 2008 when the parliament spoke on the issue. This led to the formation of BARC in 2008 by TRAI, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on a suggestion by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. BARC still frequently receives flak for not acknowledging data manipulation. It becomes obvious that TRP manipulation is rampant around the nation and this exposition is one among an unknown number of cases. The concept of extrapolating data from 40,000 meters to a population of 1 billion cannot yield proper results.
The possible solutions have already been making rounds among discussion circles. Usage of RPD – Return Path Data seems like the most plausible solution as of now. RPD is the data collected by set-top boxes installed in DTH(Direct To Home) users’ homes. Unlike the measly amount of data collected by the barometers, RPD has the potential to collect viewing data from over 20 million users. Tampering with such large amounts of data is impractical and unlikely. BARC has previously attempted to put this to work in partnership with DEN networks. But this plan was dropped when other DTH platforms refused to share the set-top box data. The need for a new system of TRP collection is important to prevent the exploitation of advertisement providers and the public as well.