BARC’s new norms for ratings claims

IN Media Business | 11/10/2015
“Analogous misuse of TV ratings is commonplace and BARC India… must use the powers vested in it by its constituents to prohibit it.”
A Broadcast Audience Research Council document
Channel leadership claims like this will be regulated


Many ills of the TV news industry are attributed to the way audience leadership claims are made, using weekly TV ratings data. BARC India, established as a joint industry body for TV audience measurement, began releasing data in April this year. It has been promising rural data as well, to give a fuller picture of who is watching what in the highly segmented TV market. That is still to come.

Meanwhile it is now moving to lay down guidelines on how TV channels of all genres can use its weekly data for commercial use. The effort is to enforce a more substantial basis for ratings leadership claims. Channels attempting to hype their viewership to attract advertisers are being told that the period of comparison must cover at least four consecutive weeks of data. 
And not just that but also at least four consecutive clock-hours of data. 

The norm has been so far that advertising mailers issued by channels scream about being no. 1, and tell you in fine print that the leadership being claimed, is at a certain time of day, in a certain segment of audience.

The Hoot reproduces the ‘fair use’ norms that BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) has announced.


BARC India Ratings – Principles of Fair and Permissible Usage 

Responsible JIBs encourage conscientious compliance

BARC India represents the fruitful culmination of a nearly decade-long project to establish India’s first Joint Industry Body for the measurement of broadcast audiences.

Three apex industry associations: IBF, ISA and AAAI; representing Broadcasters, Advertisers and Advertising Agencies respectively, are the founding constituents of BARC India. Each acted at the instance of and after full empowerment by its stakeholders. This structure imposes extremely high standards of probity, ethicality and accountability on the body.

As the custodian of the measurement that provides a ‘Currency’ to all its users and stakeholders, BARC India is obliged to establish bounds within which its ratings may be used, particularly in the public domain. This is intuitively self- evident. The RBI as India’s monetary currency provider establishes unequivocal and non-negotiable guidelines on the usage of the Indian Rupee. A few years ago, RBI demonetized the 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 paisa coins. Any attempt to use them as legal tender after that date is illegal and could attract penalty. Analogous misuse of TV ratings is commonplace and BARC India, as a responsible and accountable JIB, must use the powers vested in it by its constituents to prohibit it.

This document will explain the need for establishing “rules of the game” and then elucidate them.

Viewership Research – A domain of Statistics

BARC India has been established in pursuit of the vision of measuring “What India Watches”. At current reckoning, India has over 153 million TV homes, about 77 million each in rural and urban households. No presently available technology can capture and report every home on a ‘census’ basis. In the event, the only way of approaching the measurement task is by carefully recruiting and then closely tracking a representative sample drawn from this huge population.

The scale of the sample bears a direct relationship to width and depth of coverage it can realistically provide. One comes at the cost of the other. The greater the width over which a sample is distributed, the less the depth of coverage that will be available for a particular geography. Statistics provides reliable techniques of sampling to best capture diversity in populations and analytical techniques to quantify the errors in the estimates produced. It should be intuitive that errors tend to ‘average out’ across large aggregates but get amplified when small slices are examined. A well-designed sample makes the sampling logic and the errors of estimate associated with it, explicit.

Measurement of television viewership boils down to answering the following questions:

  • What was watched? 

  • Who watched? 

  • · When and for how long was it watched? 
In measurement jargon, these three questions map, respectively, to: 

  • · Content attribution 

  • ·Reach 

  • · Time spent 

The concept of ‘rating’ is merely the product of the second and third. Rating = Reach x Time Spent. 
BARC collects data and publishes measurement statistics on all these variables at both Household and Individual levels. Sampling ratios vary across different geographies and town classes. What may be measurable as a slice or segment in one market or geography may be too small to measure in another.

Challenges of sampling India 

While India is only the second most populous country, its economic, ethno-cultural, geographic, social and demographic diversity is by far the most multi-hued on the planet. A wide and constantly expanding spectrum of television channels seeks to slice and segment this variegated audience. Disparate rates of economic advancement across linguistic/geographic segments are echoed in the range of broadcast content that courts them. More simply, greater prosperity cues greater choice. Though a large proportion of cable or DTH homes pay a monthly subscription, only a small portion of this reaches broadcasters. Not surprisingly, a numerically dominant majority of mostly small channels realizes nothing from subscriptions and is wholly advertising dependent. 
By its nature, Advertising is data driven. Ad placement is based on finding the right segment at the right time at the most competitive price. The first two considerations are all about audience measurement while the third reflects commercial negotiation, which is also inextricably linked with it. 
This, then, is the great measurement conundrum. The more desperately a channel needs measurement to survive commercially, the harder it is to measure. 

Priorities and Choices

Panel size, while designed to grow steadily over the years, is defined at a given moment. BARC India assigns responsibility for assigning measurement priorities and making allocation choices to its Technical Committee. The Committee comprises representatives drawn from the stakeholder community and has to do the intricate balancing act between keeping the coverage wide enough to justify the “What India Watches” vision and delving deep enough to find and measure the burgeoning ‘long tail’.

BARC India’s panel is already without precedent in terms of its coverage of Urban India. With its imminent expansion into Rural India, it will be entering virgin ground for Television measurement. As new markets get covered, or previously covered markets are put under higher magnification, many new audience segments, and by implication, content delivery opportunities are bound to be revealed. More measurement and better measurement will fire up the creative engine and a feedback loop will raise the bar further on future needs from the BARC India panel.

We are entering a virtuous cycle of better measurement leading to more content differentiation leading to even better measurement and so on.

Measurement and Comparison

The two are inseparable. The moment anything is measured it becomes possible to compare it with another thing measured using the same metric. With Television viewership, it is almost a reflex. Any content producer, or advertising inventory trader, starts comparing her reach, time spent and ratings with those secured by her competitor(s) no sooner than the week’s data are published. On the one hand, it serves a crucial function in terms of content evaluation and planning. On the other, it helps set prices for trading advertising inventory. In both instances, the key players are looking closely at their “Share of Market”; creative content professionals seek to lead/dominate share of time spent, at least within their genre and ideally across multiple genres; advertising sales people want to win the maximum and highest-value-per-viewer revenue and by implication starve their competition. This is fine so far as it stays within the broadcast organisation. Issues begin only when these professionals use the data for establishing their leadership to their respective ‘customer’ communities. When a television station announces that it is “Number 1” in its genre and offers BARC India data to substantiate this claim, the claim is no longer an internal issue but has entered public discourse.

Ratings Leadership

In its most essential sense, television measurement is just a special case of attempting to make sense of human behaviour. The constant battles between fickleness and loyalty, emotion and intellect, frivolity and seriousness play out vividly in the way in which we wield the remote. As is commonplace in Nature, order eventually arises from this chaos.

One aspect of this order is a marked propensity to Inertia. Purchase behaviour, of which viewership behaviour is a special case, is known to fall into two broad patterns, ‘Repertoire’ and ‘Subscription’. ‘Repertoire’ purchasing is when a consumer has a set of acceptable, quasi-peer, brands across which she switches. Conversely, ‘Subscription’ connotes a high level of loyalty to a single brand. In general television viewing falls in the ‘Repertoire’ basket. Only the rarest content gets into ‘Subscription’ when it gets seen as ‘appointment viewing’.

It is with this context that ‘Leadership’ in television must be understood. A leader is not created overnight. A given moment or in a given day part on a particular day, may show someone ahead or someone behind. This does not constitute leadership. Using such a momentary blip is a very weak foundation on which to base a leadership claim.

The following tests must be applied before making a claim of leadership:

  • The period of comparison must cover at least four consecutive weeks of data. 

  • The period of comparison must cover at least four consecutive clock-hours of data. 

  •  The tabulations used must be direct outputs of BARC India’s BMW (BARC India Media Workstation—a user software for audience interpretation) interface. Any number derived by extrapolating or interpolating BMW outputs is not permitted for use in the public domain. 

  •  Ratings/Reach in % should not be used and only absolute numbers should be considered (except where market shares are being used for the claim). 
While there can be no objection to how much a user may parse BARC India data for internal use (within reasonable limits e.g. Relative Error levels etc.), the rules established in the next section must be strictly adhered to in all commercial applications. Any use of BARC India data for supporting an appeal to viewers, advertisers or their designated agents and representatives constitutes commercial use. 

Rules for commercial use of BARC India data

1. All BARC India data is based on a sample, not census, of India’s television viewing population.
2. Samples produce estimates of population parameters that lie within a range or ‘interval’. The midpoint of the range is used as the point estimate but what the sample actually produces is an ‘interval estimate’. Table placed at Annexure I illustrates this point. 

3. Some events are commonplace in the population; others appear less often. The rarer an event is, the harder it is to detect in a sample. Here is an example. A Cricket match is viewed by 30% of all viewers in a population of 10 million. A Golf tournament is viewed by 0.1% of all viewers in the same population. A sample of 632 individuals would suffice to estimate the Cricket match viewership with a 10% Relative Error, i.e. ±3% of the population parameter, or between 27% and 33%. To get the same relative accuracy for the Golf tournament, i.e. to get an estimate within ±0.01%, we would need a sample of over 263,000 individuals. However, if we were prepared to accept a 100% Relative Error, i.e. range of ±0.1% or 0%-0.2%, the sample size comes down sharply to 2687 individuals. Table placed at Annexure II illustrates this point. 

4. Two events cannot be meaningfully contrasted if both are rare. Imagine comparing the Golf tournament cited above with a Chess Championship also watched by 0.1% of the population. Assume that we are working with a sample of 2703 to keep both estimates in the 0%-0.2% range. Let us say that the sample produces an estimate of 0.05% for Chess and 0.17% for Golf. It would be tempting to declare Golf more popular by a factor of 3:1 but this would simply be a trick played by the sample and a grievous falsification of reality. Table placed at Annexure III provides more examples of such ‘Paired Comparisons’ as they are called in Statistics. 

5. BARC India data are best understood as ‘Time Series’ data and not ‘Point’ data. 

Read the full document at


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