TRPs are TV News Channels’ “Worst-Kept Secret”. Will Republic TV Fail the Test?

Social Commentary

TRPs are TV News Channels’ “Worst-Kept Secret”. Will Republic TV Fail the Test?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The TRP war among news channels has been heating up over the last few months. Channels have used their official social media handles to take digs at each other and anchors have referenced each other in monologues using phrases like “tak wale” and “banana republic”, a reference to the channels Aaj Tak and Republic TV.

However, there’s a new twist to the TRP tale. In a bombshell press conference, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh told reporters that the city police are probing a scam involving manipulation of TRPs. Republic TV has been named as one of the three channels involved in this scam.

Explaining the scam, Singh pointed out that there are 2,000 barometers installed to monitor TRPs in Mumbai, and that the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) has given confidential contracts to an agency called “Hansa” for monitoring these barometers. The complaint was filed by Hansa Research against some of their ex-employees who could have misused the data on the households where the TRP monitoring systems are installed.

Singh said that the accused would go to households and pay money to keep channels on, even if they were not at home. The households were paid ₹400-500 every month, he claimed. “Two people were arrested, produced in court and the Mumbai Police have got their custody. One accused has been arrested with ₹20 lakhs while ₹8.5 lakhs has been found in a bank locker,” Commissioner Param Bir Singh said.

Owners of Marathi channels Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema have already been arrested, charged under sections 409 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code. Singh told the media that news anchor Arnab Goswami, the promoter of Republic TV, will soon be questioned in the case of the TRP fraud.

Republic TV refuted the charges through a statement on its social media handles. It said that Singh had “made false allegations against Republic TV because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation. Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh. There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV. The people of India know the truth.”

“Mr Param Bir Singh’s investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud and this is a desperate measure because of Republic TV’s reportage on Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput case or any other case. This kind of targeting only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV to push for the truth even harder,” the statement read.

Former Executive Editor of NDTV, Nidhi Razdan stated that the “manipulation of TRPs is the worst kept secret in the TV industry”, and that there’s no surprise that the Mumbai Police is finally probing this.

Nidhi also posted a thread explaining how the system is gamed. “Consultants get to know the homes where the people-meters that measure viewership are located. These are meant to be anonymous homes, but the consultant manages to find out addresses. He visits the people-meter homes, gives them a brand-new 60-inch plasma TV and says, Watch whatever you like on this lovely big TV, but on the TV attached to the people-meter, you must watch this list of channels,” she tweeted.

India Today director Rahul Kanwal said the Mumbai Police needs to prove these charges in a court of law, and not a press conference. “Unlike the Kangaroo Court he runs, I believe Arnab Goswami deserves a fair trial,” he said.

While the tussle between Republic TV and the Mumbai Police continues, expect a lot more shouting at 9 pm over the next few days. Time to brace our ears for all the noise, because this issue is far from over.