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CBI charges ex BARC CEO Lulla with manipulating ratings

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has charged former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Sunil Lulla, with manipulating the TRP ratings of the India Today television channel.

In a chargesheet filed with special CBI court in Lucknow recently, the probe agency also alleged that Lulla provided early data pertaining to IPL matches to Star India on gratis basis (without charge) in September-October 2020, causing loss to BARC.

The chargesheet said Lulla committed offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to fraud, cheating and forgery, among other things.

“It is therefore prayed that cognisance of the offences punishable under under sections 406, 420, 465 and 477A of the IPC against Sunil Lulla, Ex-CEO of BARC, may please be taken and the accused person may be tried in accordance with law,” said the chargesheet, according to sources.

To a query on the matter, Lulla’s spokesperson said the former BARC chief has been a professional with high integrity throughout his career and has an unblemished track record.

“His conduct has been in accordance with BARC policies and procedures, and all allegations made against him are totally false. We have complete faith in the rule of law and the hon’ble courts,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson refused to comment any further, saying the matter is sub-judice.

A Disney Star spokesperson refused to comment when approached. However, sources at the company said it paid Rs two crore to BARC in 2019 for the data, but it declined to buy the data when it saw no utility in the product the next year. However, BARC told the company to take the data for free, else the product would shut down.

Investigation by CBI revealed that Derrick Gray, chief of measurement science, BARC, was instructed by Lulla on April 29, 2020, to explore changes in the data of the India Today channel relating to Bengaluru, for week 16 of the year 2000 before its release.

Since there was no vigilance in Bengaluru for the India Today channel, Gray explained to Lulla that changes in the data of any TV channel can only be made if there is evidence against it, of bribing or influencing a household or bribing BARC staff, among other things. None of these coukd be proven by statistics in this case.

However, Gray passed on instructions to the market analytics team at BARC. Accordingly, Gray’s team prepared two scenarios for week 16 of 2020 and lowered India Today’s countrywide rating from second to third.

Lulla approved one of the scenarios, justifying it as a business decision, even as Gray told him the change would not be statistically proven, the chargesheet said.

“The then CEO Sunil Lulla, however, gave this change the name of Business Decision, which has no place in the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) Manual (Research) of BARC,” the chargesheet said, according to sources.

The chargesheet also revealed that BARC had launched a product called “PreView” in 2018-19, to provide certain channels ratings of IPL cricket matches.

The product was designed to provide early data insight, and contained viewership data for a particular event that is provided to “the Channel”, 3-4 days prior to the official release.

Investigations revealed that in September-October, 2020, BARC provided data on IPL cricket matches to Star India free of cost, causing a loss of about Rs two crore to BARC.

Sources at Disney Star said while the company did not pay for the product in 2020, as it did not find value in it, it did not even take the data for free in 2021.

They said the question of loss to BARC does not arise, since Star India had the exclusive broadcasting and digital rights for IPL during 2017-2021 and there was no other media player available for that product. Business Standard

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