Change of Guard

DS looks at the deployment of audience measurement technology in India
Audience measurement, BARC, Analysis, Broadcast Business

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As regulators in the Middle East look to implement audience measurement systems, Digital Broadcast reports on developments in India, where BARC is in the latter stages of implementing its own system By Nirmal Menon

There is a historical transformation going on in the heart of television viewership measurement business in India. Nearly 22,000 households are being readied to represent the viewing habits of one of the largest television ecosystems in the world, which is roughly triple the sample size of the existing audience research study.

With this changeover, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, the joint industry body of broadcasters, advertisers and agencies, responsible for creating an alternative audience measurement, can promptly put a lid on the controversies plaguing the data provided by India’s only audience measurement agency, TAM Media Research.

The need for a new order emerged when several television networks expressed their displeasure over the inaccuracies in data provided by TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between consumer research giant Nielsen and Kantar Media, owned by London-based advertising major WPP Plc.

According to media reports, TAM data showed a decline in viewership, while the television universe was growing. A top industry veteran while speaking to a leading newspaper alleged that TAM showed declining viewers to prevent ad rates from going up. This is because WPP, which owns 50 per cent% of TAM, owns 60 per cent% of advertising agencies in town.

The other stumbling block for the agency was its sample size. TAM’s 9,600 people meters across 225 cities was not large enough to represent the diverse viewing habits in urban and rural India considering that India has 154 million TV households, making it the third largest TV market in the world, next only to China and the US. According to FICCI-KPMG M&E Report, this number is expected to touch 191 million in 2017.

In the light of these uncomfortable realities, the government approved the guidelines and accreditation mechanism for television ratings agencies in India, proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, facilitating the formation of BARC India.

BARC India was established in 2012 with the specific purpose of designing, commissioning, supervising and owning India’s television audience measurement system. The Advertising Agencies Association of India, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation and the Indian Society of Advertisers are shareholders in BARC India.

“We are ensuring adequate checks and counterchecks both for data and technology through trials so that the probability of error is reduced. We are also validating and crosschecking data with all available government data including the Census, NCAER and TRAI,” says Partho Dasgupta, ‎Chief Executive Officer, BARC India. “We would start with a panel of 22,000 audience measurement meters, which will be increased by 10,000 every year until it reaches the figure of 50,000.”

It’s not just the sheer size that makes this study extraordinary. The technology that powers the research also breaks new grounds such as measuring time-shifted, multi-platform and multiple viewing. In essence, the new system has the capability to track shows watched ‘on the move’ or at home at a time convenient to the viewer.

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Technical Architecture
One reason this is a telling project is that it’s very hard for the stakeholders to look into the kimono, leaving absolutely no scope for leakages and tampering. The processes are designed in such a way that each function is totally oblivious of the other. As a result, the design today holds a huge network of 12 processes and 26 partners.

Some of the key players driving this giant wheel include France’s Mediametrie for meter software; Civolution for watermarking technology; Prime Focus Technologies (PFT) for playout monitoring; Netmagic and Insight for IT infrastructure comprising the data centre, servers and leased lines to pull and store viewership information.

The audience measurement system largely relies on Civolution’s audio watermarking coding technology for automated content identification and integrates seamlessly into Médiamétrie’s TV meter system for equipment placed in the panellists’ homes to process their viewership data.

For content recognition, the broadcaster has to insert an inaudible code into its programmes through an embedder deployed at its master control room. This audio mark contains the identification of the channel and the time stamp associated with the programme. The signal is then aired to the homes of the panellists, where a TV meter explicitly captures it.

The function of the TV meter is twofold: logging the panellist’s presence in front of the TV set and identifying the content shown on the TV screen. The TV meter also evaluates any shift between this time stamp and the moment when the meter identifies it. This gap is used to identify any delayed viewing.

The panellist’s identification is perfectly captured using a remote control featuring one key for each members of the family plus guests declaration. The signals coming into a panel home are captured and relayed (along with the viewership data) to BARC India platform, where the data is collected and analysed.

The Mediametrie system, based on a mini-PC platform, offers BARC India the flexibility to develop its own hardware. The TV meter, based on an Intel Atom chip, is being manufactured by an Indian vendor at a fraction of the cost borne by the incumbent agency.

“Among the various content recognition systems, the watermarking technology offers a huge advantage. In case of simulcasting, when the same content is broadcast on several TV stations at the same time, watermarking ensures a definite recognition of the TV station that was watched,” says Gwilherm Nicolas, head of international business development at Médiamétrie.

“Likewise, in case of multi-broadcast, when the same content is broadcast at different time on several channels, the technology avoids any risk of confusion between live and time-shifted audience and thus prevents a wrong audience allocation.”

He further adds that the technology being used in France for the last seven years and in US for more than a year. Many other countries are exploring a move to this technology for its reliability and robustness.

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Playout Monitoring
While the household panel component is designed to generate data of ‘who’ is watching and ‘what’ is being viewed there’s still one missing piece: a playout monitoring system that checks the actual telecast of each channel, captures the content at every point in time, and links it back to the ‘what’ part of the audience measurement system – this is provided by PFT.

So once the audience measurement system is up and running, PFT will downlink nearly 400 channels - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. The signals will be received and recorded using set-top boxes of the broadcasters and then sent to Clear – PFT’s media ERP platform that leverages the power of MAM, BPM and Hybrid cloud to automate broadcast operations. The company has already introduced fingerprinting technology as a media processing service to facilitate this playout monitoring.

Video fingerprinting is a technique in which the software identifies, extracts and then compresses characteristic components of a video, enabling that video to be uniquely identified by its resultant “fingerprint”. Clear uses this technology to distribute it to a team of loggers who, in turn, will identify the content and tag the metadata.

The tagging will be done in 14 odd languages so that the system can also cover regional languages viewed by the panel homes. This data will be uploaded on to BARC India’s platform on a daily basis. In short, the playout monitoring will measure, map and create a ‘time-accurate’ database of all creative, commercial, promotional and any other content telecast on different TV channels.

“It’s a great honour to be associated with an industry benchmark, and we totally realise that it comes with a huge responsibility. To facilitate redundancy and reliability in the system, PFT will simultaneously downlink and record 400 channels in two different sites - Mumbai and Bangalore,” says Ramki Sankaranarayanan, CEO, Prime Focus Technologies. The company will also be investing in on a massive downlinking infrastructure besides setting up a team of 150 loggers specifically for this programme.

Once the raw data received from panellist’s home uploaded to BARC India servers, it is adjusted to represent the population from which the sample was drawn; the resulting data or the weighted data is merged with the timecode data in the GUI and sent to clients as a visual interface.

“We have started seeding the boxes to test our systems. This will continue for some time, as we want to make sure that the data flowing is right in all respects before releasing them commercially,” says BARC India’s Dasgupta. He further added that nearly 250 channels have already ordered the embedders and half of them are already installed.

The core technology engine deployed by BARC India provides cross-platform audience measurement and has the potential to enable mobile device measurement, triggering the creation of new services.

In fact Mediametrie has already designed and developed RateOnAir – a portable individual device that captures radio exposure of a panellist – using the same watermarking technology. That’s a formidable proposition should it find buyers in the Indian media and entertainment fraternity. It’s clear that the fight to reverse the tide has been joined. It’s time we joined it.

BARC METHODOLOGY
- Playout Monitoring: Prime Focus Technologies
- Watermarking Technology: Civolution
- Meter Technology knowhow: Mediametrie
- Meter Chip Supplier: Intel
- Date servers/ lease lines: Netmagic/Insight
- Establishment Survey: MRUC
- Design Quality & Analysis: Magic9
- Panel Management: Hansa

BARC STAKE HOLDERS
- IBF: 60%
- ISA: 20%
- AAAI: 20%

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