It was only recently that the Mumbai Police held a second press conference and alleged that they had ample evidence against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami in the fake TRP case. In the statement, which was widely covered by the media, they also alluded to a ‘forensic report’ on the basis of which, they claimed to have ‘found evidence’.
According to reports, the Mumbai Police had said that a recent forensic audit conducted by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) has brought out a lot of incriminating material, and revealed how data was manipulated to bring Republic TV at the number one position among English news channels. The Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Police reportedly said that the Forensic auditors appointed by BARC analysed the data of 44 weeks in their audit and that it appears from the audit that the ratings were pre-decided and accordingly manipulated.
After the revelation by Mumbai Police, OpIndia received parts of the Forensic Report that was conducted by BARC and revelations have been made in the said report, that potentially implicates several other channels. The Digital Forensic analysis was conducted in 2020 itself.
In the report, a clinching piece of the puzzle seems to have come to light. Channel Sony Six, it appears, was rampantly trying to ensure that their name features in the list of top channels. Incidentally, the report includes an email exchange as evidence between the top management of BARC and the BARC researcher, where the latter was refusing to include the name of Sony Six and the top management was insistent.
One of the first emails that are included in this exchange, is by a senior official of BARC who writes to the researcher and insists that Sony Six needs to be included in the Alpha club report. The ‘Alpha Club Report’ was launched as an offering to its subscribers by BARC in 2015. It was meant to “give BARC subscribers gain further insights into “What India Watches””.
What was interesting was the response to this email. The BARC researcher categorically says that he cannot compromise the integrity of the research and thus, Sony Six cannot be included in the Alpha Report.
Essentially, the BARC researcher clearly pointed out including Sony Six in the Alpha Report would compromise the ‘Research Sanctity’ and he would not be comfortable doing that just because it was a “critical channel”. He further says that each channel is “equally critical” and he will not include Sony Six.
In a subsequent email, the head of validation and analytics also says that the research team has “alerted all concerned of this deviation”.
The subsequent response from the officials of BARC was a surprise.
The email read that Sony Six has to be included since it is telecasting the IPL (Indian Premier League).
This email that said that Sony Six had to be included in this report since it was telecasting the IPS was sent on the 26th of May 2016.
It is pertinent to note that the IPL season in 2016 began on 9 April 2016, and concluded on 29 May 2016. According to the BARC press release in 2015, the Alpha Report service would be provided exclusively to BARC India’s subscribers, one working day after 4th week’s data is released. Therefore, it is important to understand the inclusion of Sony Six would mean that to the subscribers, it would mean that IPL was being widely watched when it probably was not (we are presuming this since the researcher specifically said that including the channel would mean that the research integrity would be compromised).
The readers need to understand that inclusion in a BARC report as one of the top watched channel is not just a matter of prestige per se, but for the channels, it also translates to better revenue in terms of advertising slots and the money that slot would fetch.
TRP case: Does the problem lie with BARC itself?
According to the Sony website, Mr NP Singh is the CEO and MD of Sony Pictures. He has been involved with the company since 1999 and became the CEO of Sony in 2014. Therefore, in 2016, when these emails were exchanged within BARC, Mr Singh was the CEO of Sony.
Interestingly, Mr NP Singh is also on the board of directors of BARC, as per their own website. Further, NP Singh is not only a Director in BARC, but is also a Director in IBF (Indian Broadcasting Federation) that has 60% stake in BARC itself.
It is thus interesting to note that while the emails were being exchanged to ensure that Sony Six gets included in the Alpha report, Mr NP Singh was not only the CEO and MD of Multiscreen Media (Sony) but was also on the Board of Directors of BARC as well as IBF that holds a 60% stake in BARC.
This information could point towards the conflict of interest and also raise questions about Sony Six being given undue favours. Therefore, in the TRP scandal, Sony Six seems to be smack in the middle of it.
The question that we need to ask here is that whether IPL needs ‘fake data’ and that internally, BARC was helping it achieve that, what really is the reality of what channels are being watched the most and which channels are. Moreover, the spotlight being shone on Republic TV does make it appear as though the issue lies with the channels and not BARC itself, however, these email exchanges clearly point towards how BARC is internally a system that does not seem to work to present an accurate picture of TRP in the first place and is deeply open to data being rigged and results being flawed.
Interestingly, while Republic TV has been in the fray and is being widely investigated for the fake TRP scam, no official from Sony Six has been summoned for questioning yet by any of the three agencies that are now involved in the investigation into the case. It is pertinent to note that while the original Hansa Research Report and the subsequent FIR based on the report named India Today, the investigation then focussed on Republic TV, whose name was interestingly not mentioned by Hansa or BARC in the TRP scam.
With these revelations, it is clear that the fake TRP scam seems to be more of a case of BARC shenanigans than those of Republic TV and Sony Six, that broadcasts IPL is smack in the middle of it since 2016, pertinently, when Republic TV had not even launched. While these email exchanges of including Sony Six in the Alpha report took place in 2016, Republic TV was only launched in 2017.
The TRP scam seems to be far deeper than anyone had fathomed. While news channels are being spoken about widely by investigative agencies, genres that get extremely high revenue for their advertising slots are often those in the entertainment and sports category and this email exchange could point towards how BARC might not be particularly forthcoming in the information they are providing to investigative agencies to ensure that their internal management stays away from the investigation. It is evident that for the truth to emerge, officials of all channels involved need to be questioned, especially, those from BARC.
Note: OpIndia tried to reach out to Mr NP Singh for his comments on the development. This story will be updated with his response when we receive one.