Mumbai: TDSAT’s recent order setting aside TRAI’s direction on the landing page issue dated 3rd December 2018, has triggered unrest among broadcasters as they fear that deep pocketed networks with strong MSO backing might exploit the situation in their favour to boost their viewership through unethical means.
As per the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order, all the MSOs and DTH Operators can carry TV Channels on the landing page of their Set-top-boxes to make additional revenues from such sources. Even though TDSAT’s order was issued in the context of amplifying the revenue opportunities for the DPOs, the verdict conveniently ignored the impact and influence towards the viewership measurement citing lack of initiative from joint industry body – BARC
For instance, in genres like English News that commands smaller volume of sample homes, the possibility of significant spike or drop in ratings is very high. The comparison of viewership data from BARC for week 21 and 22 has proved this point right as the viewership of CNN-News18 has sky rocketed from .772 million impressions in week 21 to 2.173 million impressions in week 22. The channel tops the charts among English News Channels for recording almost unprecedented 500% growth in viewership in matter of one week. The first time ever Republic TV has slipped down in the ratings.
Medianews4u.com spoke to a few broadcasters who have expressed their concerns over the issue.
Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic TV, said, “The use of landing pages to drive forced reach and compromised ratings will repeat the carriage menace that played out in the Analog Era. Landing is akin to buying placement on the prime band during the analog era and forcing reach thereby manipulating ratings. It vitiates pure-play required for unbiased measurement thereby ultimately compromising creativity, entrepreneurship and democratisation of content promised by the digitisation of the broadcast industry.”
The business head of a major Distribution media house said under condition of anonymity:
“The landing page is the property of the DPO, right? And the DPO is fully within his rights to put whatever content he wants to on the landing page as long as he is Operating within the letter and spirit of the DAS or MIB or any other guidelines.”
“As for the ratings, yes, the content from landing page will reflect in the BARC ratings, but then the onus is upon BARC to figure out how to separate or remove those landing-page-spiked ratings from its own weekly data released, or it should release two different sets of ratings. The onus for that is not on the DPO, but on BARC, which must publish separate ratings or must figure out to what extent its ratings were impacted by the audiences on the BAR O Meter homes under the DPOs who had put up BARC-covered channels on their landing pages.”
“Otherwise, the DPO is anyways fully empowered to use the landing page as his barker channel for his own content or ads.”
Shirish Pattanshetty Co-Promoter, Fakt Marathi, said, “The Landing page ruling that has come is not favourable for the broadcasters, however it will be favourable for the news broadcasters only, where in they will have to shell out a lot of money to be on the landing page of the desired LCN where they will build up their reach and impressions. This will become like a rat race where people would want to pay a premium to be in that space.”
“The LP should not be used for any broadcaster as such. It should be a page that gives the customer about what is available on the network.”
A spokesperson from ABP News Network said, “The ruling is a bit ambiguous, monetization of the landing page is not an issue, the issue is how it is getting monetized. The issue is how one is using it to mirror a channel feed and thereby manipulating the viewership. If it is used for pure brand promotions, I have no problem; I am not stopping DPOs from earning revenues. The only issue is the way it’s getting misused, that has to stop and BARC can’t say that we can’t do anything. If BARC has a technical constraint, go around that and figure out a solution. News18 has gained tremendous numbers in the Hindi News genre this week.”
“ABP News has been constantly been complaining to TRAI and MIB and taking the matter to all important government authorities. We were all waiting for TDSAT to give us that relief, which hasn’t happened and it’s a big setback.”
Manav Dhanda, Group CEO, SAB Group, said, “Landing page does seem to not give a fair measurement of the consumption pattern it is something which is not a natural viewing pattern but a skewed viewing pattern and tends to favour the ones who can use such tool to their advantage. On an industry level if a provision can be made for such tools to not influence viewership by the rating agency BARC or any other way and which is ideal.Finally if great content has to win then it should clearly be driven by choice and not by compulsive influence.”
The TDSAT order clearly says that BARC did not take any initiative for the discrepancy that may arise in viewership measurement. Since BARC did not take the initiative it is presumed that none of the stakeholders of BARC are adversely affected to any material extent and on this ground also the impugned directions are arbitrary and unrealistic.
So where does the buck stop?
BARC claims to be adhering to TDSAT’s ruling, which is not wrong, and TDSAT’s ruling clearly mentions that BARC did not take the initiative or did not want to change their measurement systems. This kind of a spike in viewership has never happened before and was caused not because of organic viewership patterns but corrupt data recorded because of the landing page.
Creating a level playing field by not compromising on the secondary source of revenues for the MSOs and making sure that the industry receives viewership data that is close to accurate and avoids Data Corruption in any way possible. Advertisers and media planners refer to the data as their bible and decide on big budgets that drive the industry.
Strongly the verdict on LP also gives undue advantage for broadcasters with their parent company involving in the distribution business like Cable MSO or DTH, wherein the group channels tend to get preferential placement in Landing Pages and boost up their viewership ratings inorganic manner, while broadcast network without any distribution backing will end up loosing the race due to lack of level playing field.
Such means of Inorganic spike in viewership will end up creating lack of trust in ratings data released by BARC. Sources reveal that many broadcasters wrote to BARC India seeking immediate intervention to curb the landing page menace. Will BARC react to it… ?