In an exclusive conversation on CNBC-TV18’s Storyboard, Paritosh Joshi, who runs his own media consultancy and serves in various industry bodies, including BARC’s disciplinary committee, expressed his views on rating suspension, tracking behaviour and sample size of TRP.
Here's what he told Shibani Gharat. On TRP scam India's Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the television rating agency, recently announced that it would suspend publication of weekly individual ratings for all English, Hindi, regional, and business news channels for 8-12 weeks. BARC’s decision follows allegations, stemming from a Mumbai police investigation, that the viewership ratings of three channels - Republic TV, Fakt Marathi, and Box Cinema – were allegedly rigged to boost their target rating point (TRP) metric. The issue, now known as the 'TRP scam', has caused a storm in the media and advertising Industry. "I am very anxious when people use terminologies like 'TRP Scam'," said Paritosh. "For as long as readership surveys have existed in India, there have been accusations that people have tried to infiltrate those studies. Whether it is the readership study or whether it is the viewership studies, an attempt of somebody to get an unfair advantage doesn’t compromise the entire study. Studies are much larger," he added. On how BARC tracks view behaviour He explained how BARC conducts back-checks using statistical forensics. “Statistical Forensics looks out for behavior which is not consistent with the behavior seen in a particular audience, in a particular household in a particular geography. But many outlier behaviors happen in everyone’s life,” he said, citing an example of how he would watch the US presidential debate, tuning into an American channel. But it is not into a habit of watching it every day. "Does this outlier behaviour mean whether there was a corrupt activity? No," so, similarly, there is a lot of outlier activity that BARC picks up and sees if there is a reason to worry in this case or not. On the sample size of 44,000 meters Many people have argued that the sample size of 44,000 meters installed to track "What India watches" in a country the size of India, is hugely inadequate, and some have spoken about how the quality of sampling is not representative of the geographic and demographic diversity of the country. On this, he said, " The real issue is not the sample size; the real answer to the question is something else. I don’t think that you need the same rating frequency for everybody." When asked that the report on the GDP, report on the NCAER, do you get a GDP report every day, do you get an employment report every week? Even with a company like Tesla, you get a quarterly report, and that once is a quarter is enough for analysts to read the health of that business. "This obsession that we need to get a reading at the microscopic level is not needed," Joshi said and added how weekly individual data for a genre as niche as news is not required, drawing comparisons with the IRS that publishes quarterly data. "We get four editions of IRS every year; there are newspapers that are much larger than the size of news channels that we are speaking about. Do media planners complain, do publishers complain, do advertisers complain? They believe that the average issue readership that they get, which is three-four times a year, is enough to make the decisions and the decisions are solid." Ending notes Advertising revenue is the most important motive behind TRP tampering, and needless to say, this scam has eroded advertisers’ faith in both the news channels and the measurement currency. Speaking about advertisers’ reaction to BARC suspending weekly individual data for news channels, Joshi said, "Advertisers don’t use weekly data themselves, then why do you put pressure on the agencies to get the weekly data. You yourself should tell the agencies that weekly data doesn’t really matter. Let’s get data which is useful, which is credible and not volatile, every if it is monthly or quarterly."