Republic and TV Ratings

I had written this back when Republic had just launched, and had got insanely high TV ratings in its first few weeks of broadcast. Opposing channels had contested the claim.

I had written this analysis for Mint, but to the best of my knowledge they did not publish it. So, very belatedly, since Republic and TV Ratings are in the news, I’m putting this here. This article was originally written on 20th May 2017

[E]ven if 1 in 500 of Sony Max’s viewers decided to watch Republic out of curiosity, that would have been enough to give Republic a 50% market share among English news channels

There has been much fuss in the media over the last few days regarding the newly launched news channel Republic’s gain in market share. According to data released by the Broadcast Audience Research Council, the channel had a “50% share” among all English language news channels in its first week of launch.

To be more precise, research by BARC, which relies on a small population of households with “listeners”, showed that there were 2.1 million “impressions” for Republic during the week of 6th-12th May (bizarrely, the television week runs from Saturday to Friday). The “impressions” of the next four highest watched English news channels (Times Now, NDTV 24×7, India TV and CNN News 18) added up to the same number
BARC uses a panel of 22,000 households whose viewing habits are continuously tracked and aggregated in order to produce overall viewership numbers . According to the organisation’s website , this panel was formed based on a comprehensive survey of about 250,000 households, and was selected to cover different states and socio-economic segments in a representative fashion.

“Audio watermarks” are added to the programming of different channels (these are sounds outside the human hearing range that are added on top of the regular program), and a receiver in a respondent’s home recognises the channel by the watermark when the TV is playing. The receiver then transmits in real time the viewing data to a central server which then computes aggregate viewership numbers.

The computation of aggregates is not a simple process since the geographic and socio-economic distribution of the sample households don’t necessarily reflect that of the population. Hence, results from the receivers needs to be weighted in an appropriate fashion before BARC produces the overall viewership numbers.

With this as the background, there are a few reasons why we should not get too excited by the fact that Republic got a “50% marketshare” in its first week of broadcast. Firstly, the 50% figure is wrong because it is 50% among the top 5 channels (the BARC website weirdly doesn’t give data beyond the top 5 in a category). While the remaining news channels may not individually have too many impressions, their total need not be insignificant.

Secondly, while the 2.1 million impressions for Republic in its first week sounds impressive, we must note that the overall market share for English news channels in India is rather minuscule.

To put in context, Table 2 has the total impressions of the top 10 channels in India. The highest watched channel, Sony MAX, had a billion impressions, which is 500 times as many as Republic. And as the table shows, the numbers don’t fall too drastically. Republic’s overall market share is tiny indeed.
In fact, to get a better perspective of how tiny the segment of English news channels is, it is instructive to compare them to Hindi News channels.

The top 5 Hindi News channels each have at least 30 times as many impressions as Republic.

In this context, Republic’s 50% market share among English news channels is nothing much to write about. Given the size of the genre itself, getting a 50% marketshare in the first week is no big deal. To put it simply, even if 1 in 500 of Sony Max’s viewers decided to watch Republic out of curiosity, that would have been enough to give it a 50% market share in English news channels.

We should also account for errors in BARC’s methodology – something that rival news channels have mentioned in their complaint. While the data collection method using audio watermarks is sound (since there is no manual intervention), there can be significant errors in terms of sampling. At first glance, 22,000 seems like a large enough sample. However, given the fact that BARC tracks more than 400 channels , this sample size is possibly inadequate. Also, given that this is a stratified sample chosen at the state, city size and socio-economic segment level, there is an assumption that all households of a certain socio-economic class in a certain region have homogeneous TV watching habits. With 400 channels to choose from, this is not a very great assumption.

Finally, it remains to be seen if Republic manages to retain its viewership in coming weeks. Once the novelty factor of the new channels wears off, it is possible that its viewership might decline. If Republic manages to hold on to, or increase, its viewership, it can be seen as a positive for the otherwise struggling English TV news industry.

Please remember that this article was written more than three years ago. All my opinions and information used in this blogpost are as things were known to me at that point in time. Also, all numbers in this article are “current” as of May 2017. 
Postscript: Monday’s Times of India had a great article on this topic. Refer to that for a more contemporary analysis of this topic.

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