What’s Wrong with TRP System and How Tech Startups Can Improve The Idiot Box

I was on a vacation down south in Munnar, India and amidst the serene surroundings in a beautiful resort as soon as the clock struck 9, my parents tuned into ‘Taarak Mehta ka Oolta Chasma’. Hailing from Gujarat, even though I haven’t been to Gujju-land from a few years now, I can vouch for the popularity of the show in the state (if not for other parts of the country). My parents had an instinctive alarm but the incident got me thinking about the popularity of these shows, TRPs, TV alerts and basically the TV viewing experience. I decided to dig a bit over here and what unearthed was almost riveting.

According to Pioneer Investcorp, the Indian cable industry is worth INR 270 billion (US$4.91 billion) and is the third largest in the world after television in the People’s Republic of China and television in the United States. The number of TV homes in India grew from 120 million in 2007 to 148 million in 2011. Cable reaches 94 million homes with 88 million analog connections and 6 million digital ones, while DTH has commanded 41 million subscribers.

Now, we use TRPs in everyday jargon and believe them to be the cornerstone for success of TV shows. But just a casual survey would reveal that hardly anyone knows how these “Television Rating Points” are calculated or what the inside story is.

Television Audience Measurement (TAM), a joint venture between Nielsen (India) Private Limited and Kantar Market Research, releases TRPs every Wednesday for Indian shows and the company has monopolized television ratings as there are no competitors as yet. TRP is a measure of what the people are watching and which channels are popular according to TAM.

The TAM site reveals the method of arriving at TRPs:

TAM runs the central, industry authorized, TV Viewership cell for the media industry. TAM India’s panel is among the top 5 in the world with the largest sample size comprising of 36000 respondents/individuals across 162 cities and towns covered by 8150 people meters in TV homes of Class I towns (all towns and cities with a population of 1 Lac+) and Semi Rural Towns (Less than 1 Lac population)

Now, this seems fair enough but in many people’s views, this is far from reality. “Sometimes, the TRPs can be so skewed that they’re actually coming from some 8-9 TV viewers in Delhi or Mumbai and this can be easily rigged!” said a source who didn’t want to be named.  This statement is not without substance. In July 2012, NDTV sued Nielsen for allegedly manipulating TAM ratings data in favour of broadcasters who ‘paid’ money. “NDTV says it was made to appear that fewer people were watching NDTV channels than actually were. It has accused Nielsen and Kantor of operating worldwide through a deliberately complex web of subsidiaries and joint ventures and abusing the power of TAM’s monopoly in India,” reported IBNLive.

Now, in such a scenario, there exists a lot of scope for improvement. Agreeing with this is Nandini Hiranniah of Morpheus, a popular accelerator in India that has invested in a startup in the TV viewing space, iDubba. “Any organization that has too many stake holders involved is bound/forced to have an agenda, and I think TAM is no exception. Also, when there is a monopoly of sorts then it tends to get propagandist; this in itself a huge opportunity for a new team to disrupt. I don’t think iDubba is trying to fight TAM TRPs, but it’s trying to bring about a different point of view; so in its endeavour, if it manages to change some opinions, manages to bring about a different perspective of looking at TRPs, why not! That in itself is a milestone achieved,” believes Nandini. Now, what exactly is iDubba?

iDubba is a startup founded by Rabi Gupta and Ashish Kumar that improves how a person watches TV. Basically a consumer web product (also on the mobile now), iDubba lets a user set alerts, interact with friends and do a lot more with TV. Recently, due to government’s digitalization rule, TAM is restructuring and wouldn’t be giving TRPs till December this year. Pouncing on the opportunity, iDubba launched its iTRPs. “We’re not trying to compete with TAM, but when we already had a good enough sample size of around 10,000 people tuning in and that too a completely random sample size, we thought that we could do a decent job here and hence launched iTRPs,” says Rabi Gupta. Tune-Ins are a way the users on iDubba convey what show they’re watching. iDubba also gathers information via user SMSes. These might not take into account what the rural India is watching but is a fairly good indication of what the urban net savvy crowd is watching.

Now, in this monopoly, startups have huge ground they can cover and the fact is known now. Apart from iDubba, there are other players in the field like Amplyfy.me, an app focused on making TV viewing better by making it a social activity. WhatsOnIndia is perhaps the biggest player over here with huge financial backing from Intel, Nexus and Sequoia Capital. This company, founded by Atul Phadnis and family has a vision to enable TV content search, discovery and guidance across varied platforms and technologies. TV Buddy, is another startup in the area with an app that is gaining popularity and goes by the tagline- “Discover Discuss. Play. Share”

Taking in a different view, I asked Prajwal B S, co-founder at Amplyfy about his experiences having touched 20,000 downloads on Google Play alone. “In terms of engagement and recommendations, we believe that we are far ahead of the competition. amplyfy has served over 40,000 recommendations in the last two weeks and has ~1000 logins per day,” says Prajwal. Amplyfy.me was recently selected for the Microsoft Windows Accelerator and have only started marketing a month ago. Mukund Mohan, the mentor at Accelerator has been supporting Amplyfy and he says, “I am personally very excited about Amplyfy. I don’t know the traction the others have, so I cannot comment on them, but Amplyfy is showing increased penetration among segments of audiences that are advertiser friendly and high engagement.”

Talking about the space, Mukund further elaborates, “I think the market is ready for alternative methods to measure TV viewing that’s more reflective of the audiences and multiple segments than currently offered by TRP ratings. The measures of viewership (reach), engagement (are they actually watching) and influence (what did they do based on watching) can be measured a lot more effectively by products like Amplyfy and others.” With accelerated growth for Amplyfy along with the strong WhatOnIndia, the market is only heating up.

The fact that the area was fairly untapped till now and with a few companies developing now, the potential is huge. It is hard to survive and thrive in a field that has dealings with the so called ‘biggies’ and the going is tough but as the cliche goes; the tough gets going when the going gets tough. The opportunity is there for the taking.

Go for it, make the idiot box famous again!

Jubin Mehta

Jubin Mehta

Jubin is an old timer at YourStory. Deeply entrenched in the Indian startup ecosystem, he has written about more than 1000 startups. With an engineering background and a keen interest in data analysis, his passion for writing and entrepreneurship makes him a perfect match for Yourstory. He operates from the mountains in Dharamshala where he also runs a hackbase. He can be reached on Twitter @jub_in and on mail at jubin@yourstory.com