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The MIB and the TV rating agency puzzle

MUMBAI: India could head for a short television ratings dark period if the guidelines approved by the Cabinet move into quick implementation. The sole rating agency, TAM Media Research, will find it impossible to restructure its shareholding structure within 30 days and there is also the challenging task of adding the panel size to a minimum of 20,000 within six months of the guidelines coming into force.

Broadcasters Audience research Council (BARC), the industry-backed audience measurement body, will have to move at a quick pace. BARC chairman and Zee Entertainment Enterprises MD & CEO Punit Goenka had told TelevisionPost.com that BARC would roll out by the second half of the calendar year.

The industry expects the government to give grace time or delay the notification till such time that the grey areas get sorted out. “The government will find a way out. A complete absence of ratings data for a longer period is not what anybody would want. Even pubcaster Doordarshan would be impacted,” says the head of a television broadcasting company.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the BARC board members will be meeting on 16 January. The outcome of that will be closely watched even as nobody knows what course of action TAM would take.

Even as the industry is debating how TAM will comply with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recommendations on television rating agencies, Information & Broadcasting (I&B) minister Manish Tewari has set the cat among the pigeons by revealing that there is no foreign direct investment (FDI) permitted in the television rating agencies as on date.

Manish TewariIf Tewari’s statement is anything to go by, then TAM, an equal joint venture between WPP-owned Kantar Media and Nielsen India, cannot be allowed to function even for a day more since it is owned by foreign companies.

“As we speak, there is no FDI permitted in TV rating agencies till the time we have recommendations from TRAI and then depending on the recommendations, we will take it forward,” said Tewari.

The revelation from the minister came at a press briefing following the Cabinet’s approval of the TRAI’s guidelines on TV rating agencies.

“The Cabinet approved the recommendation [on TV rating agencies] on two caveats. The first caveat is insofar as FDI is concerned, we will make a separate reference to TRAI with regard to the quantum of FDI to be allowed in TV rating agencies,” Tewari said.

Tewari also said that the government will wait for TRAI’s recommendations before taking a final call on the FDI issue. “After we receive the recommendations of TRAI on the issue, the question of allowing FDI will be looked at including FDI in content and distribution which is under consideration of the Ministry,” Tewari stated.

The second caveat of the Cabinet, according to the minister, is that while the recommendations will come into force immediately, the existing agencies will get 30 days’ time to be in line with the guidelines.

As per the guidelines, no TV rating agency will be allowed to hold more than 10 per cent equity in broadcasting, advertising or an ad agency venture. Again, TAM will find it impossible to comply with this rule as it is half-owned by advertising giant WPP.

The only way out for TAM would be if Nielsen buys out Kantar’s stake to become the sole owner since the former does not have any cross-media holding. Considering the short notice at which the restructuring has to be done, it looks highly impossible.

Another TRAI recommendation that TAM will be hard pressed to follow is a minimum panel size of 20,000 which is to be implemented within six months of the guidelines coming into force.

Thereafter, the panel size will be increased by 10,000 every year until it reaches the figure of 50,000.

Considering that TAM will have to double its panel size, it is a tall order that requires huge CAPEX and cannot be accomplished in 30 days which is the time allowed by the Cabinet to existing agencies to become compliant with the guidelines.

The I&B ministry’s meeting with BARC officials scheduled for 16 January assumes significance since it comes on the heels of the guidelines being approved by the Cabinet.

While the agenda of the meeting is under wraps, it is believed that the Ministry will seek a progress report on BARC and when it can start reporting data.

With BARC still under process and TAM all but out of the scene, the industry is staring at a possibility of going ratings dark. This is not a new phenomenon though, as TAM had stopped reporting data for eight weeks during the implementation of the Phase I of digitisation.

All said and done, the ministry will have the last word on the issue.

The industry, however, has welcomed the guidelines for the TV rating agency. “This was needed to ensure that we have an accurate and credible ratings system. The widening of the panel size will mean that reality gets more reflected in the ratings system,” says News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) president and NDTV group executive vice-chairperson KVL Narayan Rao.

Also Read:

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