TRP is a joke, TRP ‘tussle’ a red herring– it’s a hoax designed to hoodwink

Television Rating Points were always a joke and remains one. The present brouhaha has less to do with Television and people’s preferences and a lot more to do with political war

TRP is a joke, TRP ‘tussle’ a red herring– it’s a hoax designed to hoodwink

Abhijit Dasgupta

“TRP is a joke! In a country like India, you need to have at least 50% of the households covered randomly as a whole or stratified. Forty-five thousand meters to assess the country’s preference of channels or programme is the biggest joke!”, exclaimed Dr Dipankar Dasgupta, a respected economist and statistician with a long tenure at the Indian Statistical Institute.

He is right. I remember when I had launched my own TV channel. Way back in 2005, the assessment in Kolkata was done on the basis of a sample size of 220 households, in which people meters were installed. It was indeed absurd. Things have improved since then but it still remains a flawed system that can be tampered with.

Even then, with the Gross Rating Point of my very insignificant TV channel, I became the target of the big bosses in bigger channels, who decided to buy the distribution network to strangle me.

Dr Prannoy Roy, who I had worked with, writes about the ‘local consultant’ or ‘corridor broker’ who manages things for you – of course for a price. I recall in the early 2000, I too was approached by an astrologer. He not only wanted to pay me for allotting him a daily slot but also promised me the highest TRPs - week after week. I politely asked him to get lost. But my competitors gave him slots, pampered him and prospered.

The recent hullabaloo on TRP tampering is a ploy to divert attention – a much ado about nothing. The TRP is primarily used by the ad agency buyers to assess the cost per rating point to impress their clients and save their own back. They do not take decisions or responsibilities, prefer to sit back in their plush airconditioned rooms and talk in riddles. They have mastered this art.

I was talking to my good friend Nitin Vaidya, who was once the business head of Zee. They had once overtaken Star in the TRP and rejoiced. But Sandeep Goyal, who headed Zee way back in 2001, in a recent article reveals that ‘dirty tricks’ were prevalent even then. In fact, in 2001 CNBC came up with a complete list of the strictly confidential ‘people meters’. The Socio-economic Class A and A+ viewers were assessed on the basis of some 300 odd meters installed in the shanties of Mumbai. If the broadcaster could get access to even one meter, he was the leader.

Shapes and sizes have changed over the years but in spite of its change in name from TAM, INTAM etc. to BARC, the basic strategy and model remains the same. In his article Goyal says, and I quote “One very well-known producer was said to be behind most of the mischief. Her shows were as it is doing well. The doctored meters just magnified her success. You must’ve guessed the ‘she’ I just referred to.” These so called highly popular serials actually played not just with numbers but had a much greater impact on the social structure of the country. The ‘Indian family’ was being misused to portray all kinds of social mischiefs and crimes. So, the crime was not restricted to only tampering of numbers.

In the present fiasco, I see ‘external hands’ pulling the strings. It is not just confined to TV channels, broascasters, distributors and advertisers. I smell a rat and am fairly positive that politics is behind the present scam.

Ne man’s vocal cords and rants supported by one political party and the Mumbai Police Commissioner wading in to expose the narrative. Their promotional videos were longer than the actual length of their statements and the drama no doubt will be played out like a serial.

Who will gain in the process? Depends on who spends how much! Lawyers and PR agencies will join the fray soon. There’ll be a media divide between the powerful and the less powerful in terms of their deep pockets and length of the string attached and to which pole.

In the meantime, real news will take a back seat. Investigative reporting for the benefit of the society at large has disappeared. If one studies the claims of different TV news channels, you are bound to find statistical jugglery where each claim deserves a place in the hall of fame.

TRP is a joke. And the TRP Tussle controversy is a charade, a red herring.

(The writer is a Kolkata based media expert, filmmaker and commentator)

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