Mark Twain once famously quoted and made famous a quote by Benjamin Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”. It might be reckoned that if someone were to ask him about the recent developments in the broadcasting industry, it would have evoked the response, “I told you!”
Lately, Television Audience Measurement (TAM) Media Research Private Ltd—the prime audience measurement and TV ratings agency—has been in the eye of a legal and regulatory storm with broadcasters, regulators and various industry stakeholders raising questions as to the veracity of the ratings provided by the agency.
Last year, NDTV created a stir by filing a $1.4 billion suit against TAM before the New York Supreme Court, alleging inter alia negligence, fraud, corrupt practices, tampering, falsification and fabrication of data. While the allegations are serious, and the verdict from the US court is still awaited, TAM’s actions have also been put under scrutiny before the Competition Commission of India (CCI), pursuant to an information filed by Prasar Bharati in November last year.
In the information filed before CCI, Prasar Bharati has emphasised the close nexus between TRP ratings and TV revenues obtained from advertising, and has alleged that TAM by abusing its dominant position in the service market for ‘popularity evaluation of TV programmes’ has adversely affected the prevailing competition dynamics in broadcasting market by denying access to advertising revenue to certain broadcasting companies, and by providing skewed, discriminatory and incorrect popularity measurements to firms.
TAM, like other agencies worldwide providing similar data, uses a type of data sampler which records viewing habits of audiences, which in the case of TAM is called People Meter. It has been alleged by Prasar Bharati that TAM has placed only 8,000 such data samplers across households in India, with almost all such samplers having been placed in urban areas, and almost none have been placed in rural areas, resulting in a misrepresentation of data, wherein data pertaining to cities is being projected as pan-India data.
Prasar Bharati has usually tried to cater to the tastes of the rural audiences, and has accordingly tailored its programming for them. By removing this large audience base from their sample set, TAM has negated the value of a substantial portion of popularity weightage, which would have otherwise been attributed to Doordarshan and the bouquet of channels offered by Prasar Bharati, thereby denying them access to an indicator crucial for raising advertising