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Look Who’s Watching

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TRPs, or Television Rating Points — the size of the television audience watching a particular programme measured as a percentage of the whole TV universe, at one time — was a technical term confined to the tribe of media planners. No more. Over the years, the term TRP has become part of common usage. It now sometimes bears a negative connotation with television producers and channels often being accused of beaming raunchy or unpalatable content "just for the sake of TRPs".

The information & broadcasting (I&B) ministry has more serious concerns considering TRPs determine how advertisers and media planners invest over Rs 10,000 crore every year across 200 television channels. There are two television rating agencies operating in the country — the established TAM Media System and the more recent entrant aMap. Over a year ago, the I&B ministry, reacting to complaints that TRPs lack transparency, proposed an alternative government-controlled measurement system. The debate resulted in the appointment of a committee to examine the existing system.

The committee headed by Ficci's secretary general Amit Mitra has submitted its report, and fortunately the emerging consensus is to let television measurement remain out of government hands. Like the advertising watchdog, Advertising Standards Council, the TRP committee has suggested self-regulation by the industry through the Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC). The body was formed with members from broadcasters, advertisers and ad agencies. To make it more broad-based, the committee has proposed that a 12-member board also include public service broadcasters and the government-controlled Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP).

Audience measurement is a highly technical process developed over decades internationally by companies such as ACNielsen (of which TAM Media is a subsidiary). It also requires domain knowledge that cannot be acquired overnight through a knee-jerk government fiat. If self-regulation has worked for the advertising industry, there is no reason why it cannot be extended to audience measurement, too.

In the same breath though, the TRP committee has been rightly critical of the small sample size. The size of 8,000 homes is mainly urban-based and excludes the country's rural majority. In that sense, the emergent data is highly skewed in favour of the urban market and, therefore, incorrect. To rectify this, the committee has recommended that the sample size be increased to 15,000 over two years, and later to 30,000 homes. This would take into account areas such as Jammu & Kashmir and the North East that have been excluded so far. The committee has said this ramp-up would cost Rs 660 crore; and with television channels, advertisers and ad agencies pitching in just 0.32 per cent of the TV industry's turnover, a much more scientific system would be in place.

That is easier said than done. L.V. Krishnan, CEO of TAM Media, says rural inclusion was justified, but pleaded that finding the Rs 660 crore for the ramp-up was not going to be easy. "The advertising sector is not growing phenomenally. For broadcasters, therefore, it will be difficult to justify the additional expense for research," says Krishnan. In the case of advertisers and ad agencies, it is unlikely they will agree to foot even part of the bill.

It is in this area that the TRP committee report is weak. The committee has failed to put forward a workable funding formula. Till the industry and the government find a solution, and that may take some time, the old, archaic measurement system is likely to continue.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 24-01-2011)