Cabinet okays stricter norms for TV rating agencies to 'end aberrations'

The Indian cabinet on Thursday approved a new set of guidelines to regulate TV rating agencies, seeking to bring transparency to the measurement of television rating points (TRPs) that are supposed to measure viewership of a particular programme, and largely determine the advertising it attracts.

The existing TV rating agencies have lately been under a cloud, with both broadcasters and authorities accusing them of basing their TRPs on small urban samples of a few hundred respondents, and also of being open to manipulation.

Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari told newspersons after the weekly cabinet meeting that the new norms would address "aberrations" in the way TV shows are rated and are aimed at making the rating system "transparent, credible and accountable".

He said the notified guidelines will come into immediate effect. Existing television rating agencies like TAM will be given 30 days to implement them.

Some of the key features of the guidelines are that rating agencies will now need to register with the government, and would be subject to eligibility conditions, including cross-holding norms. Agencies will also need to ensure that they capture data across multiple platforms, including cable, direct-to-home (DTH), and terrestrial TV.

Moreover, both existing and new rating agencies must within six months have a sample size of at least 20,000 households, or 'people meters'. This will mean that existing rating agencies will have to pump more capital into their business.

The new guidelines also said that the agencies must ensure the secrecy and privacy of the households surveyed and 25 per cent of these households should be rotated every year.

The rating agencies must submit a detailed methodology to the government, have an effective complaint redress mechanism and set up an internal audit mechanism.

The government has gone so far as to introduce penal provisions for non-compliance with the new guidelines. The penalty could be up to Rs1 crore or even revoking of registration.

Under the new guidelines, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and I&B ministry officials can conduct inspections of the rating company with a "reasonable notice".

The proposal is based on recommendations made by TRAI. Tiwari said the guidelines were finalised after detailed consultations and assessments by an inter-ministerial group.

"These guidelines are aimed at making television ratings transparent, credible and accountable," Tewari said.