Here is something to think about. We all know that video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar analyse what we watch, and accordingly, fine-tune their recommended watchlists. What we perhaps don’t know is that our direct-to-home (DTH) and cable operators are well-equipped to do the same. The set-top boxes installed in our houses are privy to all subscriber data—what we watch, when we watch it, and for how long we watch it.

All that has been missing, which is now increasingly being adopted, is a certain decade-old technology in India called ‘return path data’ (RPD) which can send real-time viewership data back to our DTH and cable operators.

Its adoption has been picking up. Ever so silently.  

Tata Sky—a joint venture between Tata Group and the Rupert Murdoch-led Twenty-First Century Fox—already has a small system in place to monitor viewership via this technology since 2013. This system was first in partnership with market research firm Kantar Media Research and now with media research and measurement firm TAM Media, a joint venture between Kantar Media and Nielsen, another global market research firm. TAM Media measures the viewership pattern of 26,000 Tata Sky households and is planning to take the number up to 40,000 (of the total 16.2 million subscriber base of the company as of December 2017). 


Number of Tata Sky households monitored by TAM Media Research

For RPD technology to work, it needs internet, a compatible set-top box and a back-end system. Earlier, if a DTH platform wanted to monitor viewership, the set-top boxes needed a wifi dongle for which the companies usually had to work with the consumers. With the emergence of smart internet-enabled televisions (or hybrid set-top boxes which make the televisions smart), however, the process has become relatively easier and requires low-to-no participation from the viewers.

“The set-top boxes have low storage capacity. One needs internet to almost immediately send the data back to the operators. Smart TVs and the new compatible set-top boxes have made it relatively easy,” said Nitin Kamat, vice-president and project head of RPD, TAM Media Research which is currently in talks with other operators for a partnership similar to Tata Sky. All you need for measurement is the internet, a strong back-end, and analytics, Kamat added.

Tata Sky did not respond to The Ken’s e-mailed query.

In the last six months, Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India, the joint industry body for audience measurement, has partnered with two companies for RPD technology—cable TV distributor Den Networks and DTH platform Airtel Digital TV. The agency is rolling out pilot projects with partners.

3 million

Number of Dish TV set-top boxes in which RPD technology will be deployed

Earlier in March, Zee Entertainment-owned DTH platform Dish TV also announced that the company will be deploying RPD technology in its hybrid (internet-enabled) set-top boxes, the present count for which stands at 3 million (of the close to 16 million Dish TV subscribers).


Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

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