I don’t need to say this. Arnab Goswami is a phenomenon. And we must deepen our understanding of him.

It is incredible how often his name pops up. Every day. At least, among the people I meet or follow. It seems, he has this massive following where everyone is clued into what Arnab has been talking on the Newshour — the people he’s cut to size; the grave issues facing our nation, which he’s highlighted; the flames jumping out of the television screen; the loud, tough talk and the jokes and gifs he has inspired. And all of this took a turn for the crazy, when he quit. Last week.

So, some time back, I stopped in my tracks, contemplating a simple question: How many people actually watch Arnab Goswami every night? How many people tune into Times Now every night? That’s his play, right?

Now you may ask, why this question? A. To get to the bottom of the man’s popularity. B. To understand the role that television plays in our lives. C. The role TV still plays in our lives. D. Man, this is Arnab. My excitement level shot through the roof, seconds after the contemplation.

So, I started researching. The more I Googled, the more I learnt; Arnab is all over the internet. But, I had no answer.

I turned to the experts at Broadcast Audience Research Council. BARC is the go to body in India for television audience measurement. Its promoters are the Indian Society of Advertisers, Indian Broadcast Federation and the Advertising Agencies Association. BARC measures viewership habits of India’s 153.5 million TV households. Of these, 77.5 million are in urban India; 76 million in rural India. Currently, 22,000 homes are seeded with BAR-O-Meters. What BARC does is a sample study and not a census.

Right at the gate, I was told that I needed to learn a few things about television and audience measurement. First, how do you measure what is big or popular? Let’s say there are two movies playing in theatre A and B respectively. In theatre A, 100 people bought tickets to watch the movie. In theatre B, only 30 did. So, which is a bigger, better movie? Of course, A.

Now, let’s add another piece of information. What if, of the 100 people who bought tickets in theatre A, almost all of them walked out of the theatre in the first 15 minutes of the movie? And in theatre B, all the 30 people stayed right till the end credits. Would you say the second movie in theatre B connected better with the audience? Umm…yes. Very much.

The way it works is that in the film business, ticket sales are the deciding factor. That’s not quite true for the television business. Audience measurement is recorded in terms of time spent. Come to think of it, that makes a lot of sense. Because if you are watching TV, there is a whole host of things to distract you — the doorbell, your mobile phone, 830 other channels.


Ashish K. Mishra

Ashish edits and writes stories at The Ken. Across subjects. In his last assignment, he was a Deputy Editor at Mint, a financial daily published by HT Media. At the paper, he wrote long, deeply reported feature stories. His earlier assignments: Forbes India magazine and The Economic Times. Born in Kolkata. Studied in New Delhi – B.Com from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. Works out of anywhere, where there is a good story to be told.

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