Television audience measurement agency BARC’s decision to suspend news channel ratings for three months while it attempts to upgrade to world standards is welcome.
BARC has let down an entire industry and consumers by allowing itself to be manipulated with remarkable ease. The tiny sample sizes were allegedly gamed to their advantage by Republic TV and others who bribed a few households to keep watching their channel and thus rig TRPs. How the Mumbai Police prosecutes those behind the scam will be keenly watched.
Influential bodies like the National Broadcasters Association and the Editors Guild of India have criticised the BARC survey methodology for misleading conclusions on viewership habits based on such low sample sizes. BARC has now promised to review and augment the measuring and reporting of audience data for niche segments like English channels.
But the critics point out that increasing the sample size from 44,000 to 1 lakh as TRAI demanded is still not adequate for a vast TV viewership spread over 19 crore households. Tapping return path data from over 6 crore DTH set top boxes will at least partially offset the inadequacies of the present BARC survey. This is the direction the industry must move towards. Poor understanding of viewership tastes and behaviour has rewarded bad journalism and unethical practices. Don’t squander this opportunity for reform.