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BARC workforce member was approached to disclose panel homes, says CEO Partho Dasgupta

NEW DELHI: In a startling revelation, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India CEO Partho Dasgupta has said that a workforce member of the council was lured into divulging addresses of homes where BARC meters were installed. Dasgupta, however, didn’t reveal the place where the incident took place or the people behind it.

“Over the last seven months, we have seen in a few cities some incidents like these where one of our workforce members was paid Rs 1 lakh cash to disclose the names of 10 home addresses and another Rs 4 lakh would follow,” Dasgupta said while answering questions from Dish TV managing director Jawahar Goel after giving a keynote address at TelevisionPost.com’s ‘Digitise India’ seminar in Delhi.

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BARC, Dasgupta said, replaces 25 per cent of its panels every year to take care of such cases. Currently, BARC tracks 22,000 homes and has 25,000 meters installed in these homes.

He pointed out another instance where executives from TV channels were trying to bribe BARC panel homes to watch their shows. That the incident was from a city in South India was all the BARC CEO was willing to share.

“People are going around in homes in another city down South where people were told to watch two programmes from two broadcasters. Obviously, it is someone else at play,” he said.

On being asked why BARC is not naming and shaming such channels, Dasgupta said, “We would love to do that, but it is difficult to get hard evidence. Given half the chance, we would love to do that.”

He also disclosed that there was a list doing the rounds in a metro city containing the addresses of 100 BARC panel homes. However, only seven out of the 100 were BARC panel homes. The meters were eventually removed from those seven homes.

“There is a metro city in the country where people claim there are lists containing 100 addresses. However, out of these only seven are actually part of the BARC system. Those seven homes were quarantined and BARC meters were uprooted from those homes,” Dasgupta stated.

While stating that these things will happen, the BARC CEO said that the council has set up vigilance agencies to keep tabs on these incidents.

“We have employed two or three vigilance agencies to tail some of our own people going from home to home and to tail cable operators who are reaching those homes whenever we see abnormal data. So we keep a check in three or four ways,” he said.

Buttressing his point further on transparency, Dasgupta stated, “Three weeks back we made a public disclosure that we are churning in few places some homes that would affect data in a way, but those have to be churned because those homes were again optimised by some people.”

On the issue of some multi-system operators (MSOs) having larger weightage that helps them get a larger share of the carriage fee pie, Dasgupta admitted that there is not much the council can do to prevent the cable operators from finding out about the panel homes in their area.

“At the end of the day, it’s a physical meter, so if a cable operator goes to the consumer home, they will see and know that there is a meter in this home or that home. You can’t deny that. It will always happen as and when we do that,” he stated.

In the same breath, he pointed out that BARC has deployed technology to ensure that nobody gets to know the panel homes.

“There is a full backend system that lets us see if there are any unusual blips of data even in non-primetime hours or late night. There is full AI software that runs to pick outliers,” Dasgupta said.

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He further explained that if there is unusual behaviour in the panel due to a special event, the home is put back in the panel; otherwise, it is quarantined permanently. Until then, the panel home remains under observation and data is not taken into calculation. The 2,000 extra homes are used for these kinds of checks.

He also revealed that urban areas have more weightage compared to rural. While 30 per cent meters are in rural areas, almost 70 per cent are in urban areas.

This is because rural areas are culturally homogenous due to which fewer meters give better representation while urban areas being heterogeneous in nature require more meters in order to get better representation.

BARC plans to add 10,000 homes every year going up to 55,000 in the next three years, Dasgupta noted. “Ideally, one would like to have more, but there is an issue of how much money the ecosystem can spend. For a heterogeneous country like India 20,000–22,000 meters don’t do justice. We need more meters and much more widespread coverage and much richer data,” he averred.

Talking about the impact of BARC’s rollout of rural data, Dasgupta said that the TV broadcast industry will see a different kind of segmentation with channels catering to specific markets.

“Please be prepared for different parts of India to behave differently. A lot of new markets are emerging. In my view, it’s a huge opportunity. Till now people were relying on one or two broadcasters to reach rural. Now we know what rural looks like.”

Stating that rural and urban contribute almost equally to the overall viewership, Dasgupta said that the broadcasters have to decide which market they want to address based on their business model.

Asked about the number of meters that are actually throwing up the data, Dasgupta said that the meters are embedded with a memory that can hold 19 days of data. Data won’t be generated unless the meters are switched on. When power comes back the meter throws back the data.

He cited the examples of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu where TV signals were switched off due to different reasons (Hardik Patel agitation in case of Gujarat and Chennai floods in the case of Tamil Nadu). In such cases, BARC makes clear a declaration that the data doesn’t include the days during which the TV channels were not available

“Even if there is no power or people haven’t switched on the boxes, it gets reflected,” Dasgupta clarified.

According to Dasgupta, there is a shift in how genres are classified. A case in point is movies contributing almost 40 per cent ratings of Telugu GECs, while certain news channels get 30–35 per cent ratings from GEC content.

He also said that the industry needs to move ahead from making decisions based on old data. “What you saw yesterday may not hold true for tomorrow. We have some segments in our industry who still believe in the accounting method of regression. Basically, whatever happened in the past, you put a 9 per cent increase. It doesn’t happen like that. Past can’t be a predictor for future,” he asserted.

He claimed that unlike the previous system where data was averaged out or smoothened to make it normal, BARC picks up data and presents it verbatim.

“There are genuine troughs in the data; it is not smooth,” he contended.

Another major change from the old system is the switch to NCCS system where classification is based on spending power. This helps in preventing misrepresentation of consumers.

He regretted that the industry lost a golden opportunity when DAS Phase I was rolled out. He said that the set-top boxes (STBs) seeded by MSOs could have been used for measuring data by just putting a small chip for a return path and investing in bandwidth for the return path.

“We wouldn’t have been doing samples today; rather, we would be doing universe data. But it is possible even now, because if we don’t do it, data would not be representative,” Dasgupta stated.

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