A five month-old channel and new entrant to the BARC rating charts in the Tamil news genre emerged the market leader in Chennai (Week 21, M22+ abc), and the second most viewed by the same data in TN/Puducherry. The channel is from the stable of a large MSO. In light of the ‘landing page’ controversies that abound in the TV audience measurement world, there is speculation that the same may have contributed to the spectacular ratings of the channel in question.
This wasn’t the first time that a new entrant has shaken up the news genre with its ratings, courtesy BARC. Even if the undue advantage that the ‘store shelf’ landing pages give channels is universal, it impacts the news genre more for some reasons and that is good reason to worry.
Unlike entertainment, which also commands a reasonable subscription revenue thanks to its perceived value, news has had an oversupply of channels in recent years and is either free or priced at a bare minimum. And not all news channels are created to make money.
To be seen as a leader in the genre is paramount to remain relevant not just to advertisers, but in the absolute sense. In every genre, ratings impact ad revenues. In news, lack of ratings can render channels irrelevant, besides being monetarily unviable.
So with the proliferation of news channels, there was a pressing need to rise to the top of the ratings charts and news channels from English to Hindi to regional landed on the landing page as an essential part of their investment. When the status quo got shaken as a result, there is, expectedly, mayhem.
The system is broken and it gravely impacts the news ecosystem, which is already challenged in more ways than one.
The ability to invest can be a rightful competitive advantage, but the ability to invest to create a false perception of leadership is not. The use of landing pages to improve one’s viewership ratings is nothing short of making use of a loophole in a system to gain undue advantage.
During the past, industry bodies NBA and NBF had constantly demanded the measurement agency BARC and information and broadcasting ministry to fix the the landing page menace with volley of complaint letters. In its recent letter to the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur dated 2nd June 2022, the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) has pointed out that despite BARC having the ability to exclude landing page-led viewer impressions and filter out outlier data, it has failed to do so.
The truth is that to survive in the highly competitive news television space, one needs viewership ratings. As long as the avenue to garner those ratings is available, those who can afford it and who feel the need for it will chase those ratings. There are channels which continue to invest in landing pages, even as they hope that the malaise will go away.
The leak is for BARC to plug so that no player can make use of an unfair tool to create a perception of leadership that is not necessarily real. Unless it is plugged, all on board the ship will go under except those who can afford to leave on a jet plane, and those with the wherewithal to survive underwater.