Republic TV named in TRP scam: How viewership ratings are calculated, and what makes them vulnerable to fraud
TRPs can be manipulated if the empanelled households are identified, followed by either asking viewers to watch specific channels or asking cable service providers to ensure their channel appears first when the television is switched on
The Mumbai Police in a press conference on Thursday revealed that it has busted a Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation racket.
Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh told reporters: “The name of Republic channel is coming out in investigation. Its directors, promoters or employees are likely to be involved.” Additionally, owners of two Marathi channels, including Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, were arrested for manipulating viewership ratings.
Certain households were asked to keep these channels on the entire day, Singh said, adding that whether or not anyone was watching, and paid Rs 400-500 per month. He further said that TRPs are being manipulated to enhance advertising revenues.
What is TRP?
TRP is a tool to judge which TV programmes are viewed the most, hence pointing to the popularity of a particular channel. Defined by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) as the percentage of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes, TRPs denote the viewership received by a programme from audiences across socio-economic categories. These ratings are usually released every week.
A FICCI-EY report on India’s media and entertainment industry recently said that the size of the television industry was Rs 78,700 crore last year and TRPs are the main currency for advertisers to decide which channel to advertise on by calculating the cost-per-rating-point (CPRP).
How are TRPs calculated?
BARC, an industry body comprising advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasting companies, carries out television ratings in India by installing ‘BAR-O-meters’ in over 45,000 households, according to The Hindu.
The households are spread over a spectrum of criteria including the household’s main wage earner’s education level and the ownership of consumer durables from a list of 11 items. Content consumers in these households' press viewer ID buttons while watching a particular programme capturing details of who watched the programme and for how long, generating data on viewership patterns associated with different types of content.
The TRPs can thus be manipulated if the empanelled households are identified, followed by either asking viewers to watch specific channels or asking cable service providers to ensure their channel appears first when the television is switched on. Actual viewership data can then be manipulated by merely impacting the viewership in the households serving as the sample for the entire country.
In Mumbai, 2,000 barometers are used by BARC to monitor ratings. The ongoing TRP scam began with the complaint of Hansa, an agency BARC hired to monitor viewership.
The tampering of TRPs entails a far-reaching impact even as television news continues to be a multi-crore business. As per the Pitch Madison Mid Year Advertising Report, as quoted by Exchange 4 Media, television news contributed anywhere between Rs 750 crore and Rs 900 crore in ad revenues in the first half of the year.
Republic TV, apart from many other television news channels, have come under criticism for the sensationalism in their coverage of the case involving the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the alleged involvement of Rhea Chakraborty. However, operating in a highly competitive environment, especially since the advent of 24 hour live television news, channels have often been accused of engaging in sensationalism and media trials to vie for viewership. Examples include the 2006 Priyadarshini Mattoo case, 2010 Jessica Lal murder case and 2013 Aarushi Talwar murder case and more recently, Sudarsan TV’s show claimning UPSC Jihad by Muslims in India.
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