TRP Scam: Looming Threats Of Misrepresented Data

Jennifer Shaheen Hussain

Television Rating Points or TRPs are crucial in evaluating audience’s viewership habits of any broadcast channel. However, the statement made by Mumbai Police on Friday that the audit report of the Broadcast Audience Research Council confirmed TRPs were manipulated deliberately in the alleged scam involving three channels including news channel Republic TV has raised serious concerns about the flawed system of measuring the television audience’s viewing habits across the country.

In a bid to make Republic TV No.1, top-notch employees of the Council manipulated the ratings and pushed news channel Times Now to slot 2 and CNN-News 18 to slot No.3 from No.2. A probe in to the matter by Mumbai Police started in October, after the findings of forensic audit by a third party came to light.

The Mumbai police stated excerpts from the report that the auditing was done for “44 weeks on English and Telugu channels, and it was found to be manipulated to a great extent. The TRP ratings were pre-decided and to achieve the highest TRP for particular channels, viewership date was manipulated using three methods – outlier, meta rules and channel audience control”.

The Mumbai police arrested fifteen suspects in the case including BARC’s former CEO Parth Dasgupta who is remanded in police custody. Furthermore, based on forensic evidence found including WhatsApp chats prepared a charge sheet as well.  

A fair investigation by law enforcement agencies could uncover the truth, but, it is evident that the television industry worth Rupees 78,000 crores as of 2019 has serious anomalies that are misleading for both consumers and advertisers.

Persuasion of viewers into watching television channels in exchange of payment has attributed to the arousal of suspicions in various quarters of the TRP system nation-wide.

India has nearly 200 million television households out of which mere 44,000 households have TRP meters installed to check the viewership habits. The sampling ratio itself is questionable. These households influence media’s content and formats which millions of viewers consume. The ecosystem is likely to be perilous.

Thereafter, with the methods of manipulation used to tamper the audience measurement system, has BARC failed to conduct fare regulation of channels which its predecessor TAM or Television Audience Measurement was accused of as well?

A report by India Brand Equity Foundation published this year stated the increase in television viewership was led by Oriya, Assamese, Marathi, Bhojpuri and Urdu content as well. Two of the channels in the scam involved are regional entertainment channels called ‘Box Cinema’ and ‘Fakt Marathi’. If such misleading data can surface at the national well, it is a threat and eye-opener for possible fallacies in regional television including Assamese channels.

Assam has a little over ten television channels and there has always been a TRP war amongst them. In this connection, complaints were registered with BARC from channels of the region related, but, little heed was paid to it.

Since the investigation of the TRP manipulation began, the ratings for all channels have been halted, but while the ratings were widespread when it was functioning, stirs a question, could there have been possible manipulation in the ratings among Assam television channels as well?

Moreover, if there is a TRP system in place, which could be possibly flawed and manipulated in the region here, should not there be a detailed inquiry and investigation into the matter?

Primarily, transparency should be given emphasis while collecting, analysing and interpreting factual data on television audience. After all, it is the right of any media consumer or buyer to have the access to know and receive accurate information.

Over the years, several Indian television media outlets and experts have quoted that ‘BARC’s meter is the EVM of the news world’ and if this statement can be considered, shouldn’t it be a fair one?

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