TRP manipulation is a serious offence!

Mumbai police are currently investigating a case in which television rating points have been allegedly manipulated by three channels — Republic TV is among the accused — by soliciting viewers to watch these channels in exchange for payment. The police claimed they busted a TRP manipulation racket following a probe initiated after a complaint by TV viewership measurement agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).
According to Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, “Republic TV and two other local Mumbai channels have been found guilty of manipulating the crucial data. TRP, a tool to judge which TV programmes are viewed the most, indicates the popularity of a particular channel. Rating agency Hansa Services Private Limited, a contractor of BARC, which functions under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) filed a complaint with the Mumbai police, alleging that some TV channels were manipulating their TRPs.
The complainant firm said that the manipulated TRP ratings resulted in miscalculated targeted audience for the advertisers, which in turn resulted in losses of hundreds of crores of rupees because of the manipulated statistics of TRP. Besides cheating advertisers and securing a larger advertising pie, there are less obvious but equally serious consequences. Competitors are left dispirited and society is sent false signals on the kind and quality of content attracting viewership.
The modus operandi is simple: The perpetrators have gamed measuring agency BARC’s small sample size of 44,000 homes, 2,000 of them in Mumbai. Once the data about the households with barometers were obtained by the fraudsters, they would pay these households money to keep the channel on even when they were not watching it. In some cases, a household that did not understand English would switch on Republic TV at all hours. This nexus kept Republic TV's TRP high. This is not merely a blot on the spirit of fair competition. 
It is also an infringement of the autonomy of choice exercised by consumers. This breach of faith has another, equally important, dimension. TRPs have a decisive influence on advertisers’ spending. The possibility of manipulation implies that advertisers are also being taken on a less-than-joyous ride, shelling out money on channels that do not quite have the viewership that they claim. Multiple complaints of malpractices have reportedly come to BARC’s notice, to little avail. Meters are installed largely in economically weaker households, easier to target with perverse monetary incentives.
The absence of a specific legal framework has further undermined BARC’s ability to negate the tampering of panels and viewership. These anomalies also raise serious questions about the efficacy of the existing template of appraisal of the television audience. A way must be found to obtain, without encroaching upon the privacy of viewers, foolproof data on television audience. The collation and interpretation of this data must also be done transparently. Amid stiff competition through digital OTT platforms and social media, the TV industry must protect the interests of advertisers and consumers.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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