New Delhi: The Mumbai Police Thursday said it has unearthed a scam related to alleged manipulation of television rating points (TRP) data to boost advertising revenue involving three channels, including journalist Arnab Goswami-owned Republic TV.
The police has made four arrests in the case and is probing the matter.
The development gains significance as Republic TV — an English news channel launched by Goswami in 2017 — has been consistently topping viewership charts released every Thursday by industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Even Republic Bharat — the Hindi news channel of the same group launched last year — has topped BARC’s TRP charts in the Hindi news segment.
Both the channels also topped the latest BARC viewership ratings released Thursday.
In a statement after the Mumbai Police’s allegations on TRP fraud, the channel denied all the charges.
However, this is not the first time that the credibility of TRPs have been questioned. Broadcasters have often raised questions on the credibility of TRP data.
In July, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) had questioned BARC data in context of another Hindi news channel and alleged manipulation of data. The matter was subsequently sorted out.
Here’s a look at what TRPs are, how they are calculated and their importance for television channels.
What are TRPs?
TRPs are an overall estimate of the number of people, across various socio-economic categories and regions and geographies, who watch a particular channel for how much time during a specific period.
BARC releases the weekly viewership rankings for channels on the basis of this data. This data is what the channels then take to the advertisers.
“The competition or fight between channels is over garnering more TRPs, which can be shown to advertisers. Thus, channels with a better TRP, invariably, stand chances of getting more advertisements,” an industry source explained.
Several channels, every Thursday, display different slice of the same viewership numbers to claim superiority and boost their image and popularity.
Since 2015, BARC has been the sole provider of television rating services on a commercial basis. It is an industry body representative of different stakeholders including advertisers, agencies and broadcasters and brings out viewership data weekly for all television channels across genres.
It was formed after the information and broadcasting ministry notified the Policy Guidelines for Television Rating Agencies in India in 2014.
How are TRPs calculated?
Currently, TRP data is collected by the process of random sampling, for which BARC has installed devices or panels in around 44,000 households across the country. BARC considers these households as representative of the entire country.
These households are divided into 12 categories under the New Consumer Classification System (NCCS), based on various socio-economic parameters and classifications such as regions.
A second industry source explained that the “panel”, which is installed in the identified sample households, is like a box, with dedicated buttons with specific numbers for each member of the household.
“So when a viewer in the household is switching on the channel, he or she has to key in the number and that registers who is watching the channel and for how long,” the source said.
BARC releases ratings by calculating these “impressions”, which is the number of individuals in thousands who viewed an event averaged across minutes.
“But the flipside of this is, if the viewer takes a break and goes elsewhere and the panel will still show him or her watching the channel or programme, thus giving out inaccurate numbers,” the source quoted above added.
“Secondly, if broadcasters come to know of the households where the device is installed, they may persuade the viewers to keep the channel on in exchange for some incentives or bribes,” the source said.
Manipulation of TRPs
Aside from bribing certain viewers, it is also possible for broadcasters to do the same by ensuring the channel is marked as the landing page the moment a TV set is switched on thus increasing viewership by default.
This issue of landing pages has been raised by broadcasters on several occasions, stating that it affects the neutrality principle.
Sai Nagesh, CEO of communications firm Tempus Fugit, said TRPs dictate the fortune of a channel because revenues are dependent on them.
“As a result, quite a few channels try their best to somehow influence the measurement process. While the TRP manipulation which has come into light is unfortunate, it is also good as this system needed a long-pending upgrade,” he said.
The biggest problem with the current system is that it does not measure if the viewer is indeed involved with the programme or the channel, he added.
“It is a passive process, where once the viewer has registered himself, it is presumed that the viewer is present all the time for viewing the channel,” he said.
In a paper on television audience measurement and ratings this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had acknowledged the issue, saying incentives are provided to people in the panel homes for watching a particular channel that would affect ratings.
“Panel infiltration has a significant impact when the panel size is smaller. Increase in panel size, reduces the impact of infiltration of panel homes on ratings,” TRAI had said.
It had recommended raising the sample size from the existing 44,000 to 60,000 households by the end of this year, and to 1,00,000 by the end of 2022 using existing technology.
In 2012, NDTV filed a lawsuit against market research firm Nielsen, alleging loss of revenue of at least $810 million over eight years, on account of “false, fabricated and manipulated data”. Nielsen’s Television Audience Measurement (TAM) used to look at viewership numbers before BARC came into existence in 2015.
Over the years, several private entities have lodged police complaints over fraudulent TRP data, the latest of which was the NBA case quoted above.