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Explained: What is TRP & why do TV channels thrive on it

The TRP scandal, which Mumbai Police claims to have busted amid controversy, has put the spotlight on television news channel operations. Exposed today is the race to garner more ratings with some even willing to resort to manipulation to attain them. Here is a brief explainer on how the TRP system operates

Explained What is TRP & why do TV channels thrive on it-vpn
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Mumbai, First Published Oct 9, 2020, 5:10 PM IST
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The TRP scandal, which Mumbai Police claims to have busted amid controversy, has put the spotlight on television news channel operations. Exposed today is the race to garner more ratings with some even willing to resort to manipulation to attain them. Here is a brief explainer on how the TRP system operates:

*What is TRP? *    

TRP is a Television Rating Point. In simple terms, TRPs represent how many people, from which socio-economic categories, watched which channels for how much time during a particular period. This could be for an hour, a day, or even a week; India follows the international standard of one minute. The data is usually made public every week.

*How to calculate or check TRP? *

BARC has installed “BAR-O-meters” in over 45,000 empanelled households. These households are classified into 12 categories under the New Consumer Classification System (NCCS), the so-called “new SEC” adopted by BARC in 2015, based on the education level of the main wage earner and the ownership of consumer durables from a list of 11 items ranging from an electricity connection to a car. While watching a show, members of the household register their presence by pressing their viewer ID button -- every person in household has a separate ID -- thus capturing the duration for which the channel was watched and by whom, and providing data on viewership habits across age and socio-economic groups. The panel chosen to capture TRPs must be representative of the country’s population, and the methodology must be economically viable for the industry.

What happens when TRP increases or decreases?

TRP is a big deal for television channels as it is a key factor in deciding their revenue. The higher a channel’s TRP, the more advertisements it will get, subsequently increasing their revenue scale. The increase or decrease in the TRP of any programme directly affects the income of that TV channel in which the programme is coming. 

Which is the agency that calculates television ratings?

Broadcast Audience Research Council, formed in 2014, is the world’s largest television audience measurement service. After its joint venture with TAM, it is now the only rating body for the broadcasting sector in the country. BARC India currently has 22,000 Bar-o-meters installed across the country and is mandated to scale that up by 10,000 annually to reach 50,000 metered homes by year four of operations. BARC India launched its services with 277 subscribed channels. Today, the number of channels that have adopted BARC India’s watermarking technology and are subscribed to its services has grown to 470+.

Can television ratings be manipulated?

If broadcasters can find households where devices are installed, they can either bribe them to watch their channels – the very case that Mumbai Police is now probing, or ask cable operators or multi-system operators to ensure their channel is available as the ‘landing page’ when the TV is switched on. For TRPs, it does not matter what the entire country is watching, but essentially what the 45,000-odd households supposed to represent TV viewership of the country have watched. Broadcasters can target these households to fudge actual viewership data.

Is there a law that prevents TRP manipulation?

In the 2018 consultation paper, TRAI noted: “One of the biggest challenges has been the absence of any specific law through which the agents/ suspects involved in panel tampering/infiltration could be penalised”. It noted that BARC “has filed FIRs in various police stations against the agents/ suspects involved in panel tampering/infiltration” but its efforts “to mitigate panel tampering/ infiltration have been hampered due to absence of any legal framework”. It had recommended raising the sample size to 60,000 households by the end of this year, and to 1,00,000 by the end of 2022 using existing technology. Over the years, several private entities have lodged police complaints over fraudulent TRP data, the latest of which was the NBA case quoted above.

How does panel tampering affect TRPs?

TRAI mentioned “panel infiltration has a significant impact when the panel size is smaller” and “with the increase in panel size, infiltration of panel homes becomes challenging”. A senior industry insider said BARC has filed multiple FIRs in the past “as it tracks unusual viewership behaviour and takes action”. In the current case, the insider said an FIR was filed against employees of Hansa Research, which BARC hires for certain field jobs like going to panel households. BARC hires multiple agencies so that no single agency has the entire map of panel households across the country. The source cited the example of English TV news, which has a small share of the national viewership pie at around 1.5%, which means that for around 45,000 panel households, around 700 households will contribute to the viewership.

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