TRPs influence television content

 
By Archita Bhatta
Published: Monday 30 June 2008

TRPs influence television content

11 pm, any day of the week. Surf Indian news channels and you will find nothing but dramatized crime stories in gory details. If you want to catch up with any news other than crime at this hour, you do not have much of a choice.

This is just one example television rating points or trps influencing the content of television channels in a manner that leaves little choice for viewers. trps measure the viewership of a programme, thus, helping broadcasters to gauge the popularity of programmes, and advertisers to select tv spots.

In December 2007, the Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based ngo, concluded its study of how the content of news channels has changed over the years to cover more of crime and entertainment and less of politics and development.This is because most news channels try to adjust news programmes to match the stories that have got good trps, says Prabhakar, head of the media lab at the Centre for Media Studies. "This tendency to follow others results in lack of variety in news," he adds. According to his institute's study, coverage of politics decreased from 23.1 per cent to 10.09 per cent in 2007. The coverage of entertainment and crime rose from 6.1 per cent and 9.4 per cent to 16.5 per cent and 11.8 per cent, respectively in the same period, while education fell from 1.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent

Most channels try to adjust news programmes to match the stories that have got good TRPs

Even as the mad rush to copy programmes with high trps continues, many broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agents are blaming the manner in which the ratings are carried out for the fall in the quality of programmes. "A sample size of 7,200 homes used to evaluate trps is not enough to reflect the choices of 120 million homes with television," complain broadcasters like Zee Network and E-TV. Besides, the sampling is done only in urban areas and does not represent the choice of the rural population, says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, journalist and media watcher."Competition resulting from the proliferation of channels was expected to improve the quality of programmes and give viewers a choice. But thanks to the unscientific manner in which trps are carried out, most serials are about saas and bahu politics in upper-class households," says Guha Thakurta.

Urban focus
trps are measured through "peoplemeters" installed in tv sets at homes by the Television Audience Measurement (tam) Media Research, the only company whose rating of viewership of tv programmes is accepted by the broadcasting and advertising industry. These meters record the tv programmes watched in these homes and the duration for which these are watched. The remotes used in these homes are also provided with a button each for all members of the family. The pressing of these buttons helps record the members of the family watching the programmes.

tam claims to have installed peoplemeters in 7,200 homes across 148 cities in India. "Forty per cent of the meters are in Delhi and Mumbai and 60 per cent in rest of the country. Choices of people in states like Orissa and Bihar, where very few peoplemeters are installed, do not get priority, though their popularity may be high," says Ashutosh, managing editor, IBN 7.

Another criticism against tam 's ratings is that they do not cover rural audiences. "Currently, tam meters are distributed only in urban areas.Down to Earth At a time when television penetration in rural areas is increasing, rating the viewership among only urban populace does not make sense," says Ashutosh.

Doordarshan is also not happy with the rating system. "We were part of the joint industry body that was set up tam in 1998 to monitor tv viewership and it had been mentioned in the agreement that when tam would expand its sample size, the rural population would be considered. However, in 2007, when they expanded their sample size from 4,000 to 7,200 neither did they consult us nor expanded to rural areas," says a Doordarshan official.

Channels like Discovery, which are categorized in the upper tier by tam, though, are happy because their viewership is concentrated in urban areas. "We use tam ratings to measure our viewership and we feel they give a proper reflection of the popularity of the channel," says Rajiv Bakshi, associate director, Discovery channel.

But a Zee official claims that the skewed urban-rural representation is leading to lower than deserved flow of advertising funds to some channels. Doordarshan sources say the ratings of some of its most watched serials dropped from 10-11 to about 5 after tam increased its number of meters, affecting its revenue. They attribute the dip in ratings to an increased weightage given to metros in the distribution of tam meters.

Narayan Rao, ceo, NDTV, disagrees that trps affect channels' revenue. He says while Aaj Tak and Star News scored in terms of trps, NDTV was still No 2 in terms of revenue.

Trade secret
Advertisers and broadcasters also complain of lack of transparency in tam 's ratings. "However, we have to use it since it is the only indicator available," says Subhas Sinha, chief executive officer, Rashtria Advertising Agency.

Although tam claims to follow a statistical method to award trps, there is no way one can monitor it. tam says it keeps the information about homes and cities in which peoplemeters are installed confidential. "We do not disclose the names of the homes or cities in which our meters are located even to our subscribers," Siddhartha Mukherjee, tam 's corporate communications officer, told Down To Earth. He emphasized that this confidentiality was in the interest of producing an honest survey for the television and advertising industry.

Television penetration is increasing in rural areas but TRPs reflect viewership only in urban areas

Doordarshan sources maintain that there should be some monitoring body to keep a tab on the functioning of tam and at least that body should know the location of peoplemeters and the method of data collection and analysis.

While most people in the tv industry agree that the problems in the tam system primarily lie in its sample size and distribution of meters, another popularity rating system recently developed points out another source of error manual collection of data. The Audience Measurement and Analytics set up aMap in 2004, which connects recording meters to modems and the data is transferred to it electronically. "In case of the manual system the frequency of data collection is affected when there is a power cut or the residents are not present when the personnel visit the homes. Sometimes the peoplemeters do not work for days and the data that is collected is old. Such discrepancies are fewer in the electronic system," says Amit Varma, ceo, Audience Measurement and Analytics. aMap being new is yet to establish itself.

Counting options
Some broadcasters are of the opinion that there should be several systems of audience measurement to choose from and the competition will improve the systems. So in January this year, advertisers, advertising agencies and broadcasters set up the Broadcast Audience Research Council (barc), a not-for-profit company with equal shareholding by the Indian Society of Advertisers, Advertising Agencies Association of India and the Indian broadcasting Foundation (ibf). "We are not at all satisfied with the trp system that exists and it definitely needs to improve," says Naresh Chahal, director (finance), ibf.

barc has said that in two years, it will invest Rs 90 crore to install 500,000 peoplemeters across the country, with a mix of urban and rural households.

But it is easier said than done. "tv advertising has grown substantially in value but trp subscribers are reluctant to pay more," says Sam Balsara, chairman, Madison World, a leading advertising agency, adding that barc will work towards building a consensus among broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies on the issue. "Funds are required to include rural markets in the survey. Doordarshan can play a huge role in this," adds Varma.

Given that trps influence the quality of tv programmes, the government is considering forming policy guidelines for rating agencies. "trps have a direct impact on the scope and schedules of the content of channels, therefore, the perspective of public interest cannot be ignored," said Asha Swarup, secretary, information and broadcasting, in a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (trai).

The government has sought recommendations from trai, which also acts as an advisory body on broadcasting regulations. trai is consulting the tv and advertising industry on how they want trps to be measured.

Broadcasters and advertisers are, however, wary of regulation. Instead, Ashutosh suggests different rating systems for entertainment and news channels. He goes a step ahead and demands excluding channels "dishing out entertainment in the name of news" from being categorized as news channels.

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