How can TRPs be manipulated?
TRP manipulation is the oldest mug’s game in town. Before January 2014, TRPs were essentially generated by one company called AC Nielsen.
AC Nielsen Holding traced its way back to the media empire of Mr. Rupert Murdoch. Ever since the broadcasting space was liberalised somewhere around 2006-08, there were recommendations by the TRAI that this paradigm needs to be cleaned up. I put a regulatory framework on it when I was the Information and Broadcasting minister, after taking approval from the Cabinet. There were repeated recommendations that an industry body should be deputed to measure TRPs. Then in the time of Prakash Javdekar and later Arun Jaitley, the BARC Broadcast Audience Research Council) came into existence.
So, TRP has had a troubled history in India, and even internationally. The revenue model of the TV industry in India is flawed. In most advanced countries, the revenue model is 60 per cent subscription and 40 per cent advertising. In India, it is 100 per cent advertising. So, the eyeballs are measured by this opaque system of people’s meters colloquially called TRP’s. Then this becomes the indices for an advertising agency in the broadcast space to put in their money which was to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore even during my time and is now estimated at 40,000 crores annually.
Aren’t the BARC meters in undisclosed locations?
BARC claims as AC Nielsen used to do earlier that the people’s meters are confidential. Howsoever, the prevailing wisdom in the industry has always been to the contrary.
What is the punishment if found guilty?
I don’t know what the Mumbai police are going to hold them responsible for but in the India Penal Code (IPC) I reckon it will be cheating, fraud, etc. Various sections of the Indian penal code will apply. If the evidence of wrongdoing is unimpeachable, it is enough for the I&B ministry to cancel the license of the broadcaster.
Is there a foolproof method to measure TRPs?
There is. With technological advancement, you can measure the TV viewership in every home by installing a chip. In England, they are already doing it. The mass of data becomes voluminous but it is technologically possible. BARC may have increased the number of People’s Meters to 40,000 but that is nothing in comparison to the 900 million viewers in India. Most companies measuring TRPs are owned by advertising companies. It is like you own the examiner.
Some say going after TV channels like Republic TV is an attack on freedom of the press.
The alleged activity falls in the domain of criminality. If someone is rigging circulation numbers of newspapers and magazines or TRPs of TV channels, how can it be an attack on freedom of the press or freedom of expression?
Can the CEO or top anchor of the TV channel be arrested?
From what my understanding of the corporate law is, the top management of the companies in cases of fraud and cheating is always vicariously liable.