Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry led by Smriti Irani has proposed installation of chips in the new television set-top boxes with an aim to monitor the nature and duration of the content watched by the viewers. According to the senior official from the ministry, the move will help obtain “more authentic” viewership figures that will help the advertisers and Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) to spend their advertising expenditure wisely.
The idea behind the proposal is that, at present, a monopoly has been created, and there is no alternative to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), India. BARC is a joint industry body with three stakeholders – broadcasters, advertising and advertising/media agencies – all coming together to provide a single currency of television ratings in the country. It was set up as per the I&B Ministry’s guidelines, based on the TRAI’s recommendations on the subject.
To capture data, BARC uses watermark technology, which involves a device referred to as the ‘BAR-O-Meter’, installed on each TV set in the sample household, and another device installed by the broadcaster at the station.
However, there is a key difference between the mechanisms through which BARC collects data and the mechanisms which government intends to use.
According to the BARC India’s methodology, which provides information regarding the methodology used by the joint structure to collect data, the sample size is constructed only after receiving the household consent. That is, consent is required for the PMA recruiter to connect the BAR-O-Meter to the TV sets, which then establishes a wireless connection with the BARC India server. Whereas, on the other hand, the government with the proposal to ask DTH operators to install a chip in the new set-top boxes, makes the participation of the viewers mandatory.
Another difference between both the mechanisms is the nature of the survey. While the study which is commissioned by the BARC India covers 3,00,000 households in the country, and is based on samples and estimations, the government intends to collect the data through the population survey method. The idea to collect viewership details of the entire population is perilous, as it can lead to a situation where the authorities can create a virtual identity of a person by studying the patterns that can potentially give a lot of information about a person and his preferences.
With people are getting more and more concerned about the usage of their personal data for political gains, the legal issues surrounding the viewership malpractices – referring to the manipulation of ratings of any television channels or programmes, which were once raised by BARC India – are still not addressed, and the questions regarding the security of data and the scope of the virtual profiling of an individual are yet to receive attention from the government.