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BARC resumes ratings for news channels. What's different and is it watertight?

BARC India has resumed the ratings for individual news channels with the release of data based on a four-week rolling average, from this week. We break down the 'Augmented Data Reporting Standards' in this special report

Published: Mar 17, 2022 06:40:38 PM IST
Updated: Mar 17, 2022 07:10:43 PM IST

BARC resumes ratings for news channels. What's different and is it watertight?Image: Shutterstock

Television audience measurement body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India has released the ratings for the news genre after 17 months. The ratings were released today for the period of Week 7 to Week 10.

BARC India is calling it ‘Augmented Data Reporting Standards for News and Special Interest genres’.

What are BARC India’s Augmented Data Reporting Standards?

Under the guidance and approvals from the TechComm, BARC India will be reporting TV audience estimates on a four-week rolling average basis for all channels classified under a News or Special Interest genre, effective Week 10, 2022 (i.e., data released on Thursday March 17th, 2022). The resultant audience estimates will be based on an average of the past four weeks same day data for every data point reported in YUMI. Data will continue to be released weekly as per the existing cadence and all data will be presented under a single YUMI log-in.

No BARC committee member came forward to explain the new reporting standards but a press release sent by BARC says, "This is statistically sound and effective solution which works in the interest of the entire ecosystem."

Many experts say that this will improve the stability and reduce variability in the viewership data for channels with lower tuned sample such as the news genre. A source from the broadcast industry, giving a thumbs up to BARC decision to release four week’s rolling data explaining how news is a niche genre and relative error is high. “If a couple of houses stop watching the flux is very high. That is why BARC thought about releasing a four-week rolling average is good.”

Divya Karani, CEO-South Asia Media, dentsu, feels it is a progressive move, towards ensuring a more robust industry currency. “Given multiple forces at play; such as the relatively smaller news viewership base, the geographic spikes, the daily fluctuations depending on the news-of-the-day, will all get ironed out whilst still capturing and retaining dynamic weekly reporting. As tech progresses, we could in future, look at getting better, more granular data.”

Paritosh Joshi, principal, Provocateur Advisory, also says he would endorse four-week data over a week. “It will help smoothen out volatility. Plus, this kind of ‘trend line buying’ is not new to media buyers. They are used to making buying decisions based on multiple weeks data, rather than data for one particular week.”

Shashi Sinha, CEO, India, Mediabrands also lauds the decision. “Whole thing has been done for the stability of data. I floated this a few years back and finally it is implemented.”

Speaking about trend line buying, Sinha says, “Ideally trend-line is 8-13 week period but it would be too harsh on broadcasters with so much happening in the world, with Russia-Ukraine War going on.”

But, rolling a four-week average would also mean that no channel will know what happened in one week. Also, under the Augmented Data Reporting Standards for certain outlier events, the audience estimates may be averaged out. Now, to address the issue, BARC has come up with a solution called CER. It is called ‘Customized Event Reports’.

What will CER do?

Subscribers will have access to their unrolled database, these are for internal analyses only and cannot be used for promotions and claiming leadership spots. However, in order to meet the commercial needs of channels in the News and Special Interest genres, BARC India will provide up to 12 “Customised Event Reports” in a fiscal year. These can be used for the purpose of socialising or marketing communications, sharing with trade or media, as per BARC India’s Guidelines for Fair and Permissible Usage. These CERs will be provided to each broadcaster upon their specific request, for each of their watermarked channels classified under News and Special Interest genres. These could include big events such as the union budget, the counting day around elections and more.

Is it watertight?

The audience estimates given by BARC influence advertisement spends. Hence, many stakeholders from the media and the advertising industry are in favor of the release of data.

“Ratings should help you have currency,” says Sinha.

But television audience measurement in India has been marred with controversies for many years now with some high profile ones including the 'cash for ratings' scam allegedly involving top executives of a private news channel. The police had alleged that the ratings were being rigged by inducing the homes where the monitors were placed.

Hence, the larger question is will all these efforts make the ratings ‘watertight’ for a genre such as news?

Joshi says you set a trap and the mouse learns to beat it. “For the system to work, all participants in research should ensure no one is fooling around. But some will find a way to beat it. Nothing is watertight. Water finds a way out. It is a semicolon in the process. There will be vulnerability and gaps in the process. But right now, just give it a chance.”

Sinha says the industry has to be mature and not run behind No.1 position. “That is where pressure comes, you start cutting corners, and you do wrong things when ego comes into play in the need to be number one." 

In spite of the challenges, Karani thinks the system is a clever balance between mitigating the data fluctuations on account of the relatively smaller base and dynamic consumption whilst still capturing the viewership fidelity of each channel.

Finally, apart from new data coming out each week, starting March, BARC India will also release data for the previous 13 weeks, i.e., for the period of Week 49, 2021 to Week 9, 2022, only for the channels that have not chosen to opt out from receiving this data, which will also be based on a four-week rolling average. This data will be released over the next three working days. According to sources, many news channels have actually opted out from receiving this data.

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