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Why Modi govt made a U-turn on unrolling of viewership data for news genre

While various U-turns by the Modi government may be attributed to the error of judgments, the latest U-turn appears to be under pressure from a few broadcasters who are against any sort of changes in the rating system they are allegedly benefiting from

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting took a U-turn on its approval given to BARC India for unrolling of viewership data for the news and niche genres.

Hours within BestMediaInfo.com broke the story on Monday about the I&B ministry's approval to return to weekly viewership reporting from the new four-week rolling average, the ministry asked BARC India to hold the release of unrolled data back.

While various U-turns by the Modi government may be attributed to the error of judgments, the latest U-turn appears to be under pressure from a few broadcasters who are against any sort of changes in the rating system they are allegedly benefiting from.

However, the ministry came up with an excuse that there was some confusion because of which it approved the rollback.

In an exclusive interview with BestMediaInfo.com, I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra said that there was some misunderstanding.

"We thought it was about providing unrolled data to broadcasters for previous weeks (historic data). It later turned out that BARC informed us about the rollback of the four-week rolling average regime," said Chandra.

However, it is not clear if such 'confusion' can take place at the top level given that the news broadcasters gave several representations to the ministry for rollback to the weekly data as the new regime failed to deliver accurate reach numbers.

Earlier this year, BestMediaInfo.com reported that a majority of BARC Board members had approved the unrolling of data in January but it could not get a go-ahead from the government.

Also read: Why I&B ministry should stop ratings for the news genre with immediate effect

On a few occasions in the past, the I&B secretary told BestMediaInfo.com that any such rollback would require his ministry's approval because it was one of the conditions to restart the ratings after a 17-month-long pause following the TRP scam.

Defending the four-week rolling average, Chandra said that even weekly data is an average of seven days.

"Unless you make it LIVE reporting of data, it does not matter if it is reported on a weekly or monthly basis," he said.

When asked by Chandra about the drawbacks of the rolling average on Tuesday, BestMediaInfo.com explained that news channels' strength is their agility to report on big developments across the globe, with a focus on India.

Because of the four-week rolling average, Indian news channels tend to ignore important news developments and continue to focus on content such as 'war hysteria' or 'Seema bhabhi' type of trivialised content in the quest for TRPs.

As a result, the 60 million (6 crore) households with DD Freedish connection provided by Prasar Bharati are being served with all sorts of hyperbole.

TV remains an important vehicle for mass messaging to the last mile where DD Freedish is present across the country. Serving DD Freedish household with 'war hysteria' and other hyperbole is directly harming the interests of the government when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third term.

Full government control of the joint industry body

The unrolling fiasco reaffirms the Modi government’s control over the joint industry body set up for television audience measurement, especially after the infamous TRP scam.

So much so that the joint industry body constituted by three industry bodies cannot even decide how to report the data.

The three constituent industry bodies are - the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), the Association of Advertising Agencies of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA).

A face-off between news television bodies over TRPs

Ever since BestMediaInfo.com broke the news about unrolling on Monday morning, Arnab Goswami-led News Broadcasters Federation was said to be going all out against the ministry's approval.

By 12 noon on Monday, much before the U-turn by the ministry, multiple sources told BestMediaInfo.com that BARC India was receiving desperate calls and the decision would likely be overturned.

And within a matter of 4-5 hours, BARC India received a communication from the ministry to hold the unrolling back.

It may be noted that the NBF vehemently opposed the idea of a four-week rolling average alleging it would favour the legacy players who will get undue advantage and remain at the top.

“In fact, even if the audience data is released on a 4-week rolling average basis on March 17, 2022, the final TRPs will skew the average since it would only reflect a one-off major event of the Assembly elections and the ensuing counting day to five states, including Uttar Pradesh. The day chosen for the resumption of ratings will not give a fair and transparent picture of the actual viewership across the stakeholders - trusted viewers, advertisers and advertising agencies,” said the NBF on February 9, 2022.

Cut to today, with viewership shifting sides, NBF is favouring rolled data while the News Broadcasters and Digital Association is favouring the rollback to weekly ratings.


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