Wednesday, April 1, 2009

TRP Madness

TRP Madness(Many newspapers or news channels carry fake news articles on April 1st – All Fool’s Day – to celebrate the occasion. This left Faking News with a big dilemma as we fake the news round the clock, round the year. Hence we decided to carry a rather serious article on this day! Or maybe we just ran out of ideas, but why should we accept that? Anyway, the serious article follows:)

The current mess of television journalism is often blamed upon "the mad TRP race" i.e. the race to show sensational and senseless stuff in name of news just to attract eyeballs i.e. attention of common men and hence their viewership, which translates into high TRP numbers. So is this 'business' of achieving high TRPs against the 'business' of journalism?

Historically news organizations have been running the business of ‘printing and publishing’. The modern journalism is supposed to have started with the Gutenberg press in the fifteenth century, when Bible was printed and made available to the common masses, liberating it from the clutches of the clergy.

The Bible printing press evolved into of a press that printed books, periodicals and finally Daily Newspapers by the seventeenth century. Soon various newspapers were in business all over Europe and America. Journalism was a ‘mission’ as well as a ‘business’.

Many of these newspapers were ‘promoted’ or ‘owned’ by people on a mission – people committed to the ideals of democracy. Even in India, journalism students are taught that modern journalism started with some of the great freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi, starting their own periodicals or newspapers.

So journalism started as a ‘business of selling ideals of democracy’.

These ideas sold. People, the common man as well as the rich and the famous, bought them and they didn’t mind paying a price. The business sustained.

By the end of nineteenth century, some businessmen in the USA could recognize that the massive reach of newspapers made them the most powerful tool of mass marketing and advertising. The term ‘yellow journalism’ came into being a few years after. Profits skyrocketed.

Journalism became a ‘business of selling advertising spots’.

And it gave birth to page-3 journalism, it gave birth to sold out editorial spaces (by cleverly calling it advertorials), and it made the 'mission' of journalism take the back seat and give the driver seat to the 'business' of journalism.

The problem with television news was even more complex. Unlike the printing and publishing business, television business didn’t start with any grand mission of propagating ideals of democracy, revolution or education.

Television had broadly two roles when it started – government controlled mass communication medium or an entertainment medium better known as the idiot box, which attracted eyeballs and sold advertising spots as part of business strategy.

When independent television news channels started, they had the challenge to not take on either of these roles – a government propaganda machinery or an idiot box. While they ‘seem’ to have saved themselves from becoming a propaganda machinery of the government, they are definitely struggling to save themselves from adoption the idiot box business strategy of selling TRP slots.

We have assumed that TRPs almost solely determine the advertisement rates of the television news channels. Higher the TRP values, higher the advertising rates, and hence higher the revenues, causing the business strategy of the news channels to be TRP driven.

We have also assumed that it’s mostly non-serious and non-journalistic television content that attracts higher eyeballs and hence higher TRPs.

Both these assumptions are not completely unfounded. Television advertising rates depend heavily on TRPs (although not solely) and people tend to watch more of entertainment and non-serious content on television, because television remains a very important medium of entertainment.

Could these two factors be changed?

The first one (making television advertising rates a lot less dependent upon TRPs) would require a change in the market dynamics of the television advertising industry, while the second one (people start preferring serious television content) warrants a radical social behavior change or mass arrival of a completely new and personal medium of entertainment making television an ‘intelligent box’.

Obviously the change in market dynamics of the television advertising industry seems more feasible than hoping to radically change the society or entertainment mediums.

Television advertising industry has three major players – the rating agencies (who calculate and release TRPs), the media planners (who interpret these TRPs to price advertising spots), and the advertisers (who spend money to buy these advertising spots).

All these will have to mutually agree to come up with a formula where some other factor is given equal importance alongside TRPs while pricing the television advertising spots. For example, the rating agencies could ask common television viewers to rate television news channels on some ‘credibility’, ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ index and media planners factor these ratings while pricing advertising spots.

Yes, I am proposing that television adverting spots should have ‘quality’ (public perception) too apart from ‘quantity’ (eyeballs and reach) to offer.

And it’s not an outlandish or too idealistic a proposition. In outdoor advertising, subconsciously or otherwise, advertising spots have surely a ‘quality’ attached to them. If you are driving on a highway, you won’t find a billboard at a spot that could be considered an eyesore by the passing people, even though the ‘eyeballs’ (traffic on the highway) remain constant all across.

Therefore the major players of the television advertising industry will need to be convinced that advertising on a news channel, which is considered to be frivolous or irresponsible by common people, is like putting up a billboard near a stinking heap of waste on a highway. So an advertiser is advised to look for a ‘better’ spot. It seems a bit difficult, but not impossible.

The first step towards the above solution warrants that there should be a public rating to calculate and evaluate parameters like sincerity, seriousness, credibility, neutrality and objectivity of different television news channels, just like there is currently the TRP scale to calculate and evaluate the channel reach. Will it happen? Let’s see.

(The full (and even more boring) article is originally published here)


Rajeev said...

nice thoughts, but dont know if they can be implemented. in a way, you are asking corporate companies to promote 'good' journalism by asking them to delink advertising rates from TRP and link them to 'journalistic values'. coporates were originally the one to destroy journalism, why will they mend their ways now?

Alok said...

I partially agree with you Rajeev, but I don't think we can only blame the corporate houses for what you call 'destroying' journalism. Common persons like you and me who 'bought' page-3 stuff, and the journalists who allowed the ownership to go into the hands of businessmen, are responsible for fall of journalism. I strongly feel that all major newspapers and news channels should be converted into public companies (not 'government' companies please note). Public should own the media, as media is too powerful and must be made accountable to the public instead of a few rich businessmen.

Anonymous said...

Patrakaar, yeh kya patka hai!!!!

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