TRIPPING OVER THE TRP TRAP
Dr N. Bhaskara Rao
on 13 September 2001, 5 pm)
revelations on possible "rating fudge" are significant since priorities
of television in India are set by Television Rating Points (TRPs).
"Stunned", "shocked" and "damaging" are some of the reactions
of TV channels. Certain hype on TRPs has been all across and as
if they are sacrosanct. That is why the expose acquires the proportion
of a "scam". But it is a wonder that despite a "TRP Trap" television
in India has been under for some years, the intricacies were not
brought out for public attention much earlier. Considering the
consequences, the revelation should be viewed as a wake-up call
in the industry
This is not the first time that allegations of "manipulation of
TRPs" have been made. This time, however, vulnerability of the
system being followed has been substantiated such a way that larger
public attention is ensured. TRPs were being taken for granted
as a "universal yardstick" by media buyers, broadcasters, media,
media users and by development planners at highest level in the
country. Advertising agencies and advertisers have been doing
their campaign planning and apportioning television spend amounting
to some Rs 40,000 million primarily based on such weekly "ratings".
And, newspapers were busy hyping the "rating claims" by channels
and content producers
The peoplemeter being used was developed
for relatively homogenized societies and cultures such as
Canada, USA or South Africa and in fact, these meters were
initially imported from these countries, mostly used ones.
And yet there is hardly any analysis in the media what these TRPs
are all about as to at whose instance they are being compiled,
with what kind of methodology and with what reliability, and as
to their very relevance in the context of changing media scene
and unique viewing situation in the homes.
That these ratings are only projections and for only a select
few cities and based on a small sample of "representative" TV
households was not convincingly explained. The pattern of selecting
television channels, viewing programmes, timings, etc are measured
with the help of a "people meter" installed in those selected
few TV households. The general impression often given is that
these ratings are national and represent total "TV owning households"
in the country is not fully correct. At best one could dare to
say that they are indicative of viewership in metro and major
cities. Neither of the two rating services cover rural India.
In fact, they cover only half of urban India. Starting with four
metros about five years ago, the ratings today cover 29 cities
with some states/ languages being covered by only one city
The peoplemeter being used was developed for relatively homogenized
societies and cultures such as Canada, USA or South Africa and
in fact, these meters were initially imported from these countries,
mostly used ones. The buttons on such a meter in each sampled
TV households are expected to be pushed by each viewer as per
his or her viewership. That is each viewer in the household is
expected to be an "active" one to push on and off of the button
each time something on TV is being watched.
The sample size of TV households covered with peoplemeter started
with 400 has now gone to 3454 in the case of TAM and 4405 in the
case of INTAM. The sample size in the case of some cities is around
120 and in the case of Mumbai it has been maximum - today it is
around 600. In these sampled panel households every member is
expected to maintain strict confidentiality and factual in doing
"on and off" of the button of the meter without any inducement,
or any pressure and each member is expected to use only the assigned
button on the meter for her or him and do so each time of viewing
during a 24 hours period and every day as long as the house is
a member of the panel. Each such sampled household is expected
to represent several thousands of TV households or cable & satellite
Any aberration in doing off and on
of the button, or any passivity in the process of any one member
in the household will vitiate the projected ratings one way or
other. If a few households in the "panel" of sample could be induced
with incentive as is being done, the outcome is nothing but a
manipulated one. The actual representative weightage of a household
in a particular socio-economic category is another issue.
of television to nook and corner of the country and of regional
language channels, has changed the scope and extent of viewing.
And yet rating service is not extended to rural and small towns,
despite 60 percent of TV sets being there. Also, since nearly
60 per cent of television sets are old black and white ones, reliability
of accuracy of sensing device of people meter is doubtful in capturing
the viewership. Then, of course of the fact that spread of channels
is not uniform across in different regions of the country. All
this brings out inadequacy of rating methodology presently being
followed. As a result channels having more viewership in rural
or among certain sections are disadvantaged in the ratings. That
is ratings based on urban viewership are deciding the programmes
and programme schedules of TV channels, including of Doordarshan.
Certain phenomena of TV being used as a decoration like a "wallpaper"
in some households where "on and off" is not always related to
actual viewing, or extent of viewing, is yet another issue.
aberration in doing off and on of the button, or any passivity
in the process of any one member in the household will vitiate
the projected ratings one way or other. If a few households
in the "panel" of sample could be induced with incentive as
is being done, the outcome is nothing but a manipulated one.
contents of peoples meter are projected by desegregating the figures
into several socio-economic-demographic classifications converted
into a matrix of some 64 cells is another contentious issues in
terms of accuracy levels. That is how, competing channels, often
end up using these ratings to their own advantage picking up from
out of these several variables. This is further complicated from
the fact that there are two rating services in the market sometimes
widely differing from each other although both use similar methodology
and cater to same interests.
these services, TAM and INTAM, each charging anywhere between
Rs 500,000 to Rs 5 million as annual subscription (depending on
the turnover of the subscriber), are driven by the interests of
advertising. Since advertising is primarily based on perpetuating
and pampering consumerism, rating service too caters to such interests.
That is preferences and priorities of TV channels and their programmes,
their time schedules and formats, commercial tariff, etc are all
moderated by and based on these ratings. The two agencies are
now engaged to merge rating service and perpetuate tyranny of
ratings on Indian television. It is unfortunate that, not realizing
all this, Doordarshan got into this trap and lost its direction
and priorities when it supported TRPs despite this author's efforts
otherwise a few years ago.
ratings do serve in giving a "logic" for media planners to justify
their large dispensations total of which works out to some Rs
80,000 million yearly. Hence the need for certain transparency
in methodology and some independent monitoring and validation
procedures. Routine replacement of a 10 per cent of sample over
a year is too little to ensure reliability of rating or to cope
with passivity and casualties in sampled TV households week after
ratings are now "guaranteed" weeks before to lure advertising,
obviously implies that these ratings are a matter of survival
for advertising agencies, content producers and to channels themselves.
The kind of competition between them is such that it will intensify
and lure them further. Obviously, organizations like Indian Broadcasting
Foundation (IBF) should take initiative to bring in some discipline.
Self discipline any day is far better. The task of validation
of ratings should not be left to users alone. In my opinion no
one having interest, directly or indirectly, in advertising or
media business, be entrusted with such a task. They should however
be associated with the exercise.
architecture of people meter and its practicality, once the scope
is extended beyond cities, is yet another issue that needs to
be looked into. So that we have state of art technology involving
imaging and intelligent processing which allows direct measurement
of actual eye contact and reduces tampering chances
week after week these meter based ratings are being pronounced
how much do we know about the "impact" of television on any section
of the country?. For example, on children? On a rough estimate
the money involved between the two agencies, bringing out TAM
and INTAM, is not less than Rs 1,000 million yearly.
Recalling my own experience of bringing out the first ever National
Readership Survey (NRS) report and the fourth one, I know what
kind of resistance and pressures one face in revealing facts not
palatable to subscribers who are under constant threat from each
other. What an effort for scratching the surface or shall we say
for hijacking the priorities of television and its very character?
The author is Chairman, Centre for Media Studies,
New Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com
(The views expressed in this column are his own and indiantelevision.com
will not be held responsible for anything contain therewith.)
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