The manipulation of television viewership data by a few channels as indicated by the Mumbai Police on Thursday has put the spotlight on the company that brings out this crucial piece of information on which advertising decisions are based. That firm is the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an industry body, which was set up in response to an earlier issue involving viewership data brought out by TAM Media Research. Set up in 2010, BARC began its TV viewership measurement service after much deliberation in April 2015, with coverage of cable and satellite homes in towns with a population of 100,000 and above, largely in urban areas. Subsequently, the measurement service also included rural homes. The service now covers 44,000 panel homes or households where the viewing data is captured.
How is this data captured?
BARC installs 'Bar-O-Meters' in the panel homes. Basically, audio watermarks are embedded in video content prior to broadcast. These watermarks are not audible to the human ear, but can be detected using special hardware and software. As viewing details are recorded by the Bar-O-Meters, so are the watermarks. This audio watermarking can capture simulcasts and viewership across dayparts.
How are households selected?
Selection of households involves multiple stages. The first step is the Establishment Survey, a face-to-face survey of a sample of approximately 300,000 households from the target population. This is done annually. Out of these, the homes which will have Bar-O-Meters are randomly selected. The fieldwork to recruit households is not done directly by BARC. The daily reporting of viewing behaviour is also done by an external agency. The Mumbai Police has said that Hansa Research was the agency to which this work was outsourced by BARC.
Where was the problem?
According to the Mumbai Police, the manipulation in viewership data has happened at the data collection stage. Some households, it claims, were bribed to keep their TVs focused on a few channels. This way viewership was skewed in favour of these channels.
What is BARC saying?
The body says it will co-operate with the Mumbai Police in its ongoing investigation. A BARC India spokesperson said, “As in all our previous cases of suspected panel homes intrusions, BARC India continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines. BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report ‘What India Watches’. BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it."
What is Hansa Research saying?
Praveen Nijhara, CEO of Hansa Research, said the agency had filed an FIR against an ex-employee for manipulation of data. He said, "Hansa Research and BARC conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks, the conclusion of which resulted in Hansa Research filing an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing. Hansa Research has always been vigilant about these issues and has been proactive in informing BARC and the law enforcement agencies as and when such cases have come to our notice. We would continue to cooperate with BARC and with the authorities as and when called upon to do so.”