Lawsuit spotlights India’s flawed TV ratings system

NDTV demands reparation in New York court

LONDON — The inherently flawed nature of India’s TV ratings system has been thrown into sharp relief by New Delhi Television’s lawsuit, filed in the New York State Supreme Court, against Indian agency Television Audience Measurement and its parent companies Nielsen and Kantar Media.

NDTV alleged “wilful negligence and manipulation of the viewership data by TAM, Nielsen and Kantar” in its complaint and also said that the data “was tainted, tampered with and corrupt.”

India’s oldest commercial broadcaster has demanded $810 million as compensation for revenue losses and a further $580 million for negligence by the defendant companies in the suit, filed last week.

TAM data is important because it helps determine where advertising dollars are spent — and with more and more global entrants competing for a share of India’s $2.3 billion TV advertising market, it’s going to be a dogfight in the country.

The Indian information and broadcasting ministry has long acknowledged there are deficiencies in the TV Ratings Point (TRP) system and commissioned a committee in May 2010 to look into it.

The TRP is based on some 8,000 boxes in sample homes distributed across India’s 117 million cable and satellite homes by TAM.

While the committee was fact gathering, an industry led initiative of broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies founded the Broadcast Audience Research Council in July 2010.

The committee reported back in January 2011 with the recommendation that self-regulation of TRPs by the industry, led by BARC, was the best way forward.

It suggested that rural areas, not hitherto part of measurement, be included and recommended an increase in the sample size of people meter homes from 8,000 to 30,000 in five years, covering urban areas, rural areas and small towns, providing complete geographical coverage of the country.

The committee expressed concern about the lack of transparency in TRP measurement methodology and recommended that the “process should be carried out in a credible, transparent and statistically robust manner” subjected to audit, with the results available in the public domain.

And that was it, from a government point of view.

BARC has not begun functioning, with many believing the industry offered to set up BARC to head-off government-imposed regulation. A senior officer in the information and broadcasting ministry told Variety on condition of anonymity that it has been pushing for BARC for years, but the industry isn’t interested because someone or the other always benefited from manipulated TAM data.

A channel head, also anonymous, agreed, saying that every channel has profited at some time due to “cooked” data and there are, therefore, benefits in keeping the existing system going. He also accused NDTV of suing as a last resort because of its low ratings.

TAM, meanwhile, is expanding measurement to smaller towns and adding 2,000 people meters by the end of the year.

Both NDTV and TAM declined comment because the matter is subjudice.