Explainer: What is TRP?

By: Caroline DSouza
13 Oct 2020 11:15:04 AM Journalist (Class of 2020), Mumbai


What is TRP?

Television Rating Point, popularly known by its abbreviation - TRP, is a system used by television operators to calculate which television programs are getting more views or is being watched more as compared to the others. It’s intended purpose was to assess the entertainment programs but is also used to monitor other shows like the news channels.


The TRP data collected is made public every week. It helps marketing and advertising agencies make decisions on where they want to invest their money. The data helps them identify their target audience and decide which channel is the best to place their advertisements. It works similar to the way YouTube reads your viewership data and will accordingly suggest videos that you may be interested in watching.


How is TRP Calculated?

TRP is calculated using a device called the ‘People Meter’. This meter is expensive and so it is offered by the television operator to a few families who view television. This device requires the user to select which member of the family is using the TV and then monitors which channels and the amount of time the user spent on a certain program.


Every member of the household is given a separate ID which they have been asked to select every time they want to watch a show. The TRP also helps TV channels as it helps them determine their revenue.The higher a channel’s TRP, the more revenue it will get from the amount of advertising agencies wanting to invest in their channels.


Who Calculates TRP?

The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), is the agency in charge of distributing and monitoring the People Meters. They are also responsible for calculating the TRP and making sure that the devices have not been tampered with but have no control over people being bribed by broadcasting networks to increase the TRP of their channels.


Formed in 2014, BARC is the world’s largest television audience measuring system. In India, it is the only rating organisation currently. With over 20,000 Bar-o-meters installed across the country, the council wants to keep increasing its reach, aiming to scale up by 10,000 meters each year and 50,000 metered homes by the fourth year consequently.


Who Gets the People Meter?

A small selected sample of people are offered the opportunity of installing a people meter but are asked not to talk about it to others. People cannot volunteer to have a people meter because they would be liable to tamper with it considering they already know about it and how the machine works. The television service provider gets to choose who is best suited to get a people meter.


The project is confidential and relies on the people using the device to keep it a secret. It is not a very reliable system because it solely depends on the honesty of the users but it is currently the only way to monitor broadcast media.


Can the Ratings be Manipulated?

In the case where a broadcasting network does find one of the houses in which the people meter is installed, they can bribe the users to help manipulate the ratings or can tamper with the device. The broadcasting agencies can also contact the cable operators and get them to either reveal the location of the meters or bribe the operator to tamper with them.


The higher the TRP, the more revenue a channel can get thus encouraging these channels to gain more TRP through foul play. While some households may choose to remain honest and will report the case of manipulation, most are easily tempted to earn extra by cooperating with the broadcasting companies.


Can Action be Taken against TRP Manipulation?

There are no specific laws in regard to the tampering of TRP ratings and so it lies with BARC to take action and file a report with the police in regard to the case. BARC has been given the right to impose a fine if they find evidence linking a certain company to the tampering or manipulation of the people meter.


Beyond the fine, the police can not take any action against those proven guilty because of the lack of laws regarding the case. Over the years many reports have been filed alleging the tampering of the TRP system. The Television Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) noted in 2018 that mitigation of such cases are very difficult owing to the absence of a legal framework.


Past Scandals

Apart from the ongoing alleged Republic TV scam and the India Today scam reveal, there have been many past instances of tampering, the latest one being in 2018 in Bangalore. The only information available on that case was that the cable operator was working in league with a teleserial producer. 


The producer paid the electricity bills of the people involved and asked them to keep the television on throughout the day. The users were also instructed on which channels they could watch. Besides the electricity bill, the users were also being provided with free cable connection. As reported by Times of India, the police investigating this matter were yet to find who was paying the producer to boost their TRP.


Being the only method to measure and calculate viewership for broadcast, TRP is constantly at threat of being manipulated and misused. BARC needs to work with TRAI and the Government of India to ensure that laws are passed to safeguard the interests of the public as well as the broadcasting, advertising and marketing agencies.


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