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English news channels walk out of BARC amid release of Republic TV viewership data

MUMBAI: High drama has followed ever since Arnab Goswami launched Republic TV on 6 May. Besides the war of words between Arnab and his former employer The Times Group, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has separately urged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to step in so that Republic TV corrects what it alleges as ‘unethical distribution practices’.

In a new round of hyper action, English news channels affiliated to the NBA have pulled out of BARC and also removed watermarking from their feeds after the TV ratings agency released the weekly viewership data on Thursday.

“Given your indifference to the serious situation at hand, we are left with no option but to advice some of our aggrieved members to opt out of BARC’s watermarking system with immediate effect until there is appropriate redressal of our grievance. We hope good sense prevails and urgent corrective action is taken by BARC,” NBA secretary general Annie Joseph wrote to BARC India CEO Partho Dasgupta.

Earlier, the NBA had urged BARC not to release the viewership data of Republic TV until the newbie English news channel stopped using multiple LCNs (logical channel numbers). In its letter, the association had told the rating agency that if the release of the data was not delayed, it would amount to ‘aiding and abetting such malpractices’, which could have serious implications for the news broadcasting industry in India.

The association had also written to TRAI urging it to take action against what it calls an unethical distribution practice. This is for the first time that the NBA had registered a complaint of this nature against a news channel.

The release of data by BARC on Thursday prompted English news channels to pull out of the council as a mark of protest. The data showed Republic TV grabbing almost half of the market share in the English news genre.

The NBA also swung into action. “We refer to our letters dated 15 May 2017 and 17 May 2017 about multiple LCNs being used by Republic TV channel licensed under the news and current affairs genre launched on 6 May. We find that despite our two letters, you have gone ahead and released the inflated and corrupt data for Republic TV as of this morning. This has serious implications and has caused irreversible damage to India’s existing English news TV channels,” wrote Joseph to Dasgupta.

“As you can see from the data you have put out, there is no logic or rationale for Republic TV to have the kind of shares and reach across all key markets. On a pan-India basis, discrepancies have been noticed across markets which completely distort the statistics for a very important and influential news genre,” Joseph further stated.

Incidentally, dual frequency is not a new tactic employed by TV channels. Many news channels have tried it at some point to drive ratings.

Earlier, BARC India had clarified that, if a channel was available on multiple slots or feeds on a particular platform, its Bar-o-Meters would read all of them as one channel and would report its ratings as a single channel as long as all/multiple feeds carry the same unique watermark.

As per BARC data for the week ended 12 May, Republic TV topped the chart with 2.1 million impressions, followed by Times Now with 1.1 million impressions. NDTV 24×7, India Today Television and CNN-News18 hovered at 0.3 million impressions in that order.

Republic TV had a viewership share of 49.43% in the English news genre, followed by 26.8% for Times Now, 8.22% for NDTV 24×7, 8.17% for India Today Television and 7.35% for CNN-News18.

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