It is the “news channels” dirtiest, but most open secret - how the ratings are rigged. And, equally it is making a fool of the advertisers, who fund these channels.
Mumbai police Commissioner Param Bir Singh alleged that Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV has been manipulating TRP’s to boost its advertising revenues. Goswami’s channel, launched in 2017, has been consistently topping the charts ever since. To understand the scam, allow me to explain the nuts and bolts of how the news channel industry’s ratings work. People meters numbering around forty-five thousand are at the heart of the scam. Despite the so-called secrecy in those households, which have the so-called “people meter” installed by the Broadcast Auditorium Research Council (BARC) they are widely known to the “channel fixers”.
Param Bir Singh set the cat among the pigeons by announcing that Mumbai police were looking in to a scam about the manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRP). In simple terms, TRP’s claim to represent how many people from which socio-economic categories watched which channels for much time during which particular period. This data is then sliced and diced to the minute to decide programming time bands such as the so-called prime time and the rate that the channels charge for advertising in those particular time bands. Channels also use this data to make chest thumping claims on who is number 1, which provides a sorry spectacle of anchors’ egos on display. The people meters are installed in around 45 thousand households - hardly a sample size which should be reassuring in sheer numbers terms.
BARC, has according to the Mumbai police, engaged a firm called Hansa to install the meters in people’s home. Police say during investigation they found that some employees of Hansa were compromising this data and sharing this with the TV channels and certain households were being paid to keep a particular channel on to drive up its viewership. I repeatedly tried to contact Hansa chief executive officer Praveen Nijhara for comments for Gulf News, but received no response. Mumbai police have also named two other channels in what they describe as a “major racket” - these are Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. Mumbai Police have already made some arrests and summoned Republic TV’s chief financial officer for questioning.
Singh says even a minor manipulation of data can impact advertising revenue worth hundreds of crores and Mumbai police intend to see if such advertising obtained through data manipulation can be treated as proceeds of crime. Republic TV is owned and managed by ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited, which is a subsidiary company of SARG Media Holdings Private Limited of which Arnab and his wife Samyabrata Goswami own 93 per cent of the shares. Predictably Goswami has moved the Supreme Court and said Mumbai Police are defaming him and his channels because of his reporting on the Sushant Singh Rajput case.
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The first result of the scam being in the public domain is salutary. Rajeev Bajaj, owner of auto giant Bajaj Auto, issued a statement that he was pulling advertising from the three channels as the Bajaj brand does not endorse toxicity and hate mongering in society. Bajaj is a biggie and his good citizen decision comes when most industry is in crisis. If more advertisers followed his lead it would lead to a real clean-up of the cesspool that is the TRP industry in India.