What does Shashi Sinha’s assumption of the BARC chair mean for the M&E sector?

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Shashi Sinha

Measurement is money, but it is fatal for any media vehicle in any vertical if it lacks credibility with stakeholders. For example, the inconsistency and lack of trust in the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) has been responsible for the devaluation of print media.

The controversy around the IRS was at its peak in 2013-14 and someone was tasked with bringing all stakeholders together on the same page to make the IRS a reality. Although he couldn’t last long, due to various vested interests, Shashi Sinha emerged as the common thread that could bind the industry together due to his capacity for conviction and other skills.

Sinha was once again chosen for the difficult task of restoring industry confidence in the BARC television audience measurement system. The joint industry body owned by IBF, ISA and AAAI has been all but pronounced dead by many industry stalwarts after ratings manipulations at the data processing level were exposed by a third-party audit.

The Acquisory Consulting report established that the then BARC management team, led by former CEO Partho Dasgupta, was involved in corrupt practices and that in several cases the TRPs were decided by them. Sometimes they didn’t care what the data said.

Sinha, who was the chairman of Techcom at the time, was also taken away by Dasgupta as the former was kept in the dark over several decisions.

Challenges galore

With Nakul Chopra leading day-to-day operations as CEO of BARC, Sinha’s first challenge would be to ensure transparency in every decision that affects the industry as a whole. Lessons learned from past oversights would certainly be applied but at the same time, Sinha would have to visualize each action using multiple filters.

Rigging methods are continuously evolving and the industry witnessed this recently when Republic TV aired Hindi streams of major events such as Counting day and the swearing in of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath .

As the new president, Sinha will have to deal with questions from stakeholders over such tricks played by Republic TV in order to gain an unfair advantage. All of this would require preventive and quick actions before it turns into another threat to the industry.

Other challenges for Sinha include strengthening outlier management, including outliers generated by landing pages, double LCN or counter tampering.

Now that the government has stepped in to reform the TV measurement system, Sinha will lead the most crucial part – the integration of Return Path Data (RPD) into BARC data after the joint task force formed by the I&B ministry to study the DPR submitted its report within the next two months.

His accession to the pulpit coincides with the ratings return for the news genre, historically known as a troublemaker for BARC India. Even if the impact of the landing page cannot be fully mitigated, news channels are unhappy with the unsatisfactory intervention of algorithms processing data from landing pages.

However, the channels are showing restraint given that News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) had said it would review the system after three months.

Sinha took over from Punit Goenka as the ISA skipped his turn this year. Next year, Sinha will continue as BARC President as an AAAI candidate. The industry expects him to transform the measuring body into a nearly tamper-proof system over the next two years.

Digital video measurement

Even though the report of the government’s TRP committee emphasized this issue, there was not much effort on the subject. But as digital video consumption explodes, BARC under the leadership of Sinha will have to relaunch its plans for EKAM, its digital currency.

EKAM in its initial phase failed to take off due to resistance from big players including Google, Facebook and several Indian OTT players who wanted to continue with the walled gardens built around their platforms.

Advertisers still lack the confidence to go all out for digital video advertising due to the walled gardens built around every OTT platform. Although advertisers are seeing brand building and sales results when they engage in digital video advertising, they have taken a leap of faith while investing in measurement.

If Indian players are to increase their slice of the digital video advertising pie against Google and Facebook, they will have to help roll out EKAM, which will instill a lot of confidence in advertisers.

The industry expects Sinha, with the help of the I&B ministry, to be able to launch the unified digital video measurement system during his tenure as BARC chairman.

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