Seventeen months after BARC’s viewership ratings were paused due to irregularities, the monitoring agency resumed the system for news channels on March 17 as per the new augmented data reporting standards. But all has not been well since then.
Last week, members of the News Broadcasters and Digital Association – which consists of legacy channels such as India Today, News 18, Zee, ABP, Times Now and NDTV – raised issues of alleged malpractices in a presentation to BARC. The complaint was about two broadcasters – Republic Bharat and TV9 Bharatvarsh – linked to the News Broadcasters Federation.
NBDA noted that the time spent levels and spike in Republic Bharat and TV9 Bharatvarsh ratings were completely “abnormal” as compared to others.
But sources in the NBF told Newslaundry that the spike can be attributed to the channels’ coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war and the subsequent Indian refugee crisis.
Newslaundry had earlier on the different positions taken by the two groups of broadcasters on the television ratings. According to a source at BARC, both NBF and NBDA had wanted ratings to resume but there was disagreement over when to release them. While NBF sought immediate resumption, NBDA wanted to wait. This was because some channels relied on the ratings more than the others.
In the presentation made by NBDA, seen by Newslaundry, the broadcast body said that after the announcement made on February 7 (week 6) of data release, TV9 Bharatvarsh saw alleged gains week 7 onwards. It pointed to a jump in time spent levels of the channel as compared to the others and called it “completely abnormal”.
For Republic Bharat, it recorded an increase of 10.7 million in week 11 as compared to week 10. From 90.5 in week 10, it became 101.1 in week 11. It noted that this increase in a single week seemed impossible.
In terms of reach, Republic Bharat was at the top in the Hindi speaking market in week 12, the latest, while TV9 Bharatvarsh, which was earlier ranked seven before the data was paused, is now ranked three.
“In the old system, it was known how malpractices happen, so you’d have pattern recognition of how anyone would have enrolled in the system,” a member of NBDA told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity. “But this is a new system – you don’t know who has breached and at what level. It looks like malpractice for sure.”
In the UP and Uttarakhand market, it pointed towards “extraordinary gain” for TV9 Bharatvarsh from week 7. It also noted “unexpected” rise in time spent the channel got here during that period.
Showing the sharp spike in time spent levels of TV9 Bharatvarsh in the Punjabi and Chandigarh market, it noted that this took place during election results but viewers were still “glued to war coverage on TV9 Bharatvarsh”.
‘Gameplan to UP election leverage shattered’
Meanwhile, NBF members claimed that March 17 was fixed as the date to resume ratings to benefit traditional broadcasters part of the NBDA – considering the UP elections – as they would have data and a lead due to an experience of covering previous elections.
“What nobody expected was the Russian-Ukraine crisis,” said NBF’s secretary-general R Jai Krishna. “The legacy channels had banked upon their leverage on coverage of UP elections when BARC resumed ratings on March 17. However, newcomers – Republic Bharat and TV9 Bharatvarsh – were quick to respond to the Russian-Ukraine crisis which gave them an edge and shattering the hopes of NBDA’s game-plan, as the weightage of UP elections on ratings had gone down.
“In the news business, survival of the fittest is the game. Let’s give it to the good reportage and programming that put them ahead of the race,” he said. “Because ratings is a matter of survival for our channels which were devoid for over 18 months without reason or rationale, and not just a measurement tool.”
A source told Newslaundry that it should be taken into consideration that newcomers are more innovative. “Their narrative is different. It’s no longer the DD kind, sitting in a studio and reading teleprompters,” said a source in NBF. “At NBF, it is all media entrepreneurs, who are doing things on their own. So for us, it's a matter of survival. War doesn't happen everyday, if they were smart enough they should have sent more reporters. All is fair in love, war and ratings.”
The NBDA source, meanwhile, said that data was fairly stable while it was suspended, but “exactly in week 7,” the two channels started growing. The NBDA presentation questioned why war coverage failed to improve ratings in Kannada markets.
BARC is yet to respond to Newslaundry’s queries. This report will be updated if we receive a response.
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