When Anna Hazare ended his fast on August 28 last year most people were convinced TimesNow ran away with the coverage ratings. Immediately after the event the debates within the news media started over TRPs. This article “News channels blame weekly ratings for quality decay” quotes Rajdeep Sardesai wanting the TAM ratings monthly instead of weekly. Advertisers seemed to want it every day even. Says Rajdeep: “While TRPs are important, in English news channels, which have a small sample size anyway, TRPs should be seen as television respect points and focus on credibility of the news channels.” Sure, credibility is built by mindless Bollywood, Cricket and garish masala programmes. Credibility is built by senseless daily polls, manipulated debates, foodie programmes, comedy programmes on supposed news channels, political bias and leaning, and mindless contests like GreatestIndian or Indian of the Year. That’s not just Rajdeep’s channel though, it’s the whole lot. It is amazing that the rush for TRPs is being blamed for decay in news channels. Well, in simple terms the TAM ratings mean advertising money and more money. Another executive from a news channel stated: “News companies are indulging in a mindless race for ratings…”. Someone seems to have lost that race. Lost very badly it seems.
The Rating Game just took a turn for the worse. NDTV filed a lawsuit (Read it HERE or HERE) against Nielsen, the premier TV rating company and the parent of TAM-India and has sought damages worth a whopping $1.4 Billion. You have to be very patient to read through the whole 194 pages of the lawsuit scribd in the link I have provided. It lists all the wrongdoings of Nielsen-TAM since 2004 right up to 2012 according to NDTV. At every turn NDTV claims to have been the victim and suffered damages. Given this is a legal issue it would be prudent not to pass any comment on the contents of the lawsuit. But here are some edited excerpts from the lawsuit (in random order):
… While Nielsen, Kantar and TAM are liable for abusing their dominant position in the Indian market, they are also liable for indulging in corrupt practices by manipulating viewership data in favor of channels that are willing to covertly provide monetary inducements / payments / bribes to TAM officials. These payments are accepted and viewership data manipulated as per the requirement of such paying channels.
… Since NDTV is among the very few broadcasters that has refused to indulge in any corrupt practices, naturally its ratings have suffered. This has negatively impacted, amongst other damages, NDTV’s advertising revenues.
… Low ratings for NDTV news channels have also led to public claims by other news channels of being the number 1 (one) channel. This loss of hard earned reputation and goodwill along with the damage to the profitability of NDTV as a result of low advertising revenues has in turn severely, damaged the brand value of NDTV. Loss of respect and faith amongst shareholders and seen the value of its share price decline from a high of INR 501 on January 4, 2008, to a low of INR 25.7, as of December 20, 2011. This has also demoralized the employees of NDTV and forced the company to have to pay higher compensation to retain nationally recognized talent.
… It is common knowledge that there are a number of television channels owned by politicians and political parties. Furthermore, politicians also own cable networks in certain Indian states. At the household level, in certain instances PeopleMeters have been installed at the residences of government officials, where tampering of the data also takes place. Consequently, there is little doubt that corruption, bribery and manipulation of TAM, has extended to public officials, government agencies and politicians. Many politicians who own news networks (one-third of all news networks in India) and cable operations (60% of cable operations) continue to benefit from the corruption of data and Nielsen/Kantar’s refusal to stop publication of such data.
May 2009: GfK-MODE showed NDTV 24x7 had a viewership share of 60% among the top three English channels.
May 2009: This time interestingly enough by Nielsen itself, showed NDTV 24x7 having a viewership share of 61% among the top three English channels.
An August 2011: GfK MODE showed NDTV 24x7 having a viewership share of 56% among the top three English channels.
March 2012: GfK-MODE showed the viewership share of NDTV 24x7 at 51% among the top three English channels
However, the viewership data released weekly by TAM in India during those periods shows the news channels of NDTV having a very low viewership. Such large discrepancies between survey data and PeopleMeter data is statistically impossible, unequivocally indicating manipulation and corruption in the data.
… It is highly relevant considering that within the television industry, 34% (INR 116 billion, USD 2.1 billion in 2011) of revenues come from advertising. For news broadcasters such as NDTV, advertising constitutes 70% to 80% of revenues.
… The loss of revenue caused to NDTV on account of the false, fabricated and manipulated data released to the public by Nielsen, Kantar and TAM over the past eight (8) years is not less than $810 million.
…. A meeting was held between the representatives of Nielsen…. and the Consultant along with representatives of NDTV... On February 28, 2012 at J.W.Marriott Hotel, Mumbai. At the said meeting, the representatives of Nielsen interrogated the Consultant as to how the bribes were paid and who was/were the person(s) responsible for taking bribes on behalf of TAM to fix ratings. The Consultant named several employees of TAM who took bribes through other consultants to fix ratings for channels. The Consultant also pointed out that one of the employees of TAM had currently moved to a competing broadcaster.
More than anything else NDTV’s case justifies the title of this blog! The media world has indeed become murky and there could well be many mini-mafias operating in it. Not surprisingly, the only place where one finds mention of this lawsuit is in some print and online media. Whatever the outcome, this has to be landmark case for TV channels, advertisers and the TRP system. NDTV mentions bribes being paid by ‘other’ channels. If you leave out the govt channels there are not more than 15-18 news channels at the national level and the English ones are hardly around 4 or 5. The bad news for the TV and advertising industry is also that they have collectively almost put all their eggs for ratings in the single basket of TAM.
Now, since NDTV has taken on the alleged corrupt practices of Nielsen-TAM, news channels need to go another mile. There are Air-Passengers associations, Rail-Passengers associations. Will it take a News-Watchers Association to sue many of the media channels for bias, manipulating debates and sometimes spreading outright lies? What will it take for news channels to cut down the Bollywood masala, Cricket masala and get more reporters on the ground?
If TRP ratings can be corrupt and manipulated, how many polls by news channels are perceived to be corrupt and manipulated? What explains their playground being Delhi and Metros alone? What will it take them to get the nation covered? How many times will it take Assam and NE to remind them of poor news coverage? As long as there isn’t a judicious coverage of the nation by so called “national” news channels they aren’t going to have enough content and viewers are not going to be bothered by losses due to the rating game. Maybe NDTV and even other news channels should put up an online poll to ask if people are sad for their losses. The results will likely stun them.