Broadcasters slam landing page ruling, see it changing TV ratings dynamics
The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in its recent judgement quashed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) directive dated November 8, 2017 that put a restraint on all broadcasters and distributors of TV channels from placing any registered TV channel, whose TV ratings is released by a TV rating agency, on the landing Logical Channel Number (LCN) or landing channel or Boot-up Screen.
The broadcasting industry has been in a huddle ever since the passing of the judgement as they weigh in the implications and the resultant impact on channel ratings. Following TDSAT’s ruling, BARC India has said that it would now also include the ratings of channels placed on landing page in its weekly ratings data.
Adgully spoke to a cross-section of news channels to understand the implications and what the industry intends to do, going forward.
Implications of the TDSAT ruling on landing page
All the broadcasters that Adgully spoke to were unhappy with the TDSAT ruling. Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic TV, pointed out that it made for a retrograde move as it enabled a back door way of re-enacting the carriage menace that played out in the analog era. It added, “It vitiates pure play required for unbiased measurement of TV audience so the impact will be severe on the niche channels, while the larger broadcasters will be able to muscle their way in, thereby ultimately compromising creativity and entrepreneurship from flourishing for the right reasons in the Indian electronic media space.”
Sources in ABP News felt that it has become a legitimate way of tampering with viewership. They maintained that whoever got to be on the landing page would get the advantage of being viewed. “As long as the landing page is used to promote a channel there are no issues, but if it is used to view their actual feed, than that would be a problem,” the sources added.
Along similar lines Vivek Parakh, COO, IBC 24, too, stressed that it would unnecessarily canvass the mindset of the audience if the same channel came on the landing page for a long time. According to him, “This will have a direct correlation of the channel and BARC TRPs, which will be unfair to the other players at the same time. It will have an adverse effect on audience psychology and his right to watch his favourite channel as per his preference.”
Calling it “an unfair ruling”, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, Chairperson & Managing Director, Pride East Entertainment, said that it would lead to a lot of manipulation. “In fact, I have written to BARC regarding the same,” she added.
Manoranjan Sarangi, CFO, Orissa Television Ltd, alleged that it would benefit a few broadcasters who had distribution tie-ups with the DPOs.
How does it change the equation in the news genre?
The 2019 General Election results that were announced last week were reflective of the true state of viewer preferences. Sources in ABP News noted that there was a clear stacking order on who was on top and who was at the bottom. “Historically, it is the case that when there is a big story, the viewer will go to their preferred channel. When the viewer is not interested in views or the channel, then you are forcing the viewers’ attention. That is what we would call tampered viewership or engineered rating,” they added.
Khanchandani maintained that landing is not about a specific genre; it impacts reach and thereby ratings across all genres. “If the landing is on a specific DPO, which has distribution in a specific market, the impact of reach in the market is clearly visible, thereby giving disproportionate viewership in the market for that channel,” the broadcaster explained.
Sarma opined that if the MSO or broadcaster is a beneficiary, then basically the news that had value at one point of time will not have any value. “If a broadcaster has an MSO, then what we are facing in the North East is when you turn on the TV the page appears, if you regress back then the page appears. If every half an hour the electricity goes off then the page appears. You can manipulate it the way you want and hence, it becomes very difficult and the value regarding the content comes under question,” she asserted.
Parakh here pointed out that the content of any news channel is usually the same; it is all about who breaks that news first and how it is presented. He added that the nature of content in news channels is usually dynamic and the audience usually sticks to the channel which comes up with the news first and presents it well. Therefore, such change may bring undue advantage to the channel in the minds of the audience and channels BARC ratings.
Adding further, Parakh said, “At the same time, it is very important to note that landing page usually has minimum of 5 seconds stay and the user cannot change the channel. This will have grave impact on news channel genre.”
Shirish Patanshetty, Co-Promoter, Fakt Marathi, a distribution consultant and serial entrepreneur, felt that there would be a rat race to get on the landing page.
To what extent will the placement in the landing page result in a surge in viewership?
Since BARC India will not measure the TRPs of landing page viewership separately, it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact increase in the viewership of the channel placed on the landing page. However, the industry experts are unanimous in their view that it would be tampering with the ratings.
While the impact on ratings would depend on the number of networks where one grabs the landing page, Patanshetty was of the opinion that the surge in ratings could be anywhere between 15 per cent and 40 per cent.
As the sources in ABP News pointed out, “You can use the landing page to do promotion in a legitimate way. But don’t make it forced viewing for a minute-plus. Then you are tampering with the rating and bothering the viewer. BARC stands here to tell us what India watches. With these practices, the integrity of its data will be impacted.”
IBC 24’s Parakh, too, felt that it would be forced viewing. He noted, “Every time the audience switches on the TV, a particular channel will be shown on the landing page. This will affect the psychology of the audience, which may result into TOMA, that is, Top Of Mind Awareness, and longer exposure might result in change in the preference and liking of the audience.”
How significant will the data bias be if BARC includes this induced reach in its measurement?
All the industry experts agreed that there will be data bias with the impact of induced reach will be significant and even dramatic in some genres.
While Pride East Entertainment’s Sarma could not comment about the data, she added that if the landing page was regularised, then in the future the dynamics of television would change.
Patanshetty explained, “Depending on the number of MSOs the landing page is signed up with, the reach will be much higher than the usual ratings as that is forced viewing. So, potentially viewers who are not interested are also forced to watch, therefore the reach and impression count would go up.”
Parakh agreed that this would have an impact on reach as well as time spent on the channel on landing page as in today’s time, the user is usually engaged with multiple devices at the same time. “If the landing page is biased towards any particular channel, then this would definitely give it edge in terms of reach and time spent and would reflect in the BARC numbers,” he maintained.
Should BARC post viewership for the landing page separately?
All eyes are now on BARC India as to how it tackles the landing page ratings issue. It is learnt that several broadcasters have written to BARC on desisting from publishing the ratings of channels placed on landing pages. While the broadcasters that Adgully spoke to unanimously felt that there should be separate ratings for landing page, at the same time they also acknowledged the fact that BARC currently lacked the technology to do this.
This is reflected in what the sources in ABP News had to say, “Ideally, they should, but technically they can’t. That’s the point it has been making that technically they can’t distinguish. BARC has to open up to new technology solutions to do that segregation.”
Sarma added here that the viewership data for the landing page should be measured separately because the moment the landing page starts it is counted as 60 seconds and the views go there.
According to Khanchandani, “The moot point here is that its forced reach and not the organic reach of the channel and there are ways to neutralise this by BARC to a large degree and they can continue to improve their technological capabilities to completely nullify this menace. It’s the responsibility of BARC to give a true picture to advertisers, agencies and content creators.”
Patanshetty added here that measuring the viewership data for landing page separately could be difficult as MSOs would carry the same feed and this might keep changing on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the arrangements and money power.
Should content on landing page be watermarked?
Since broadcasters like to promote their shows and content, it is possible for DPOs to use their platforms to sell this space to them to promote their shows. According to Khanchandani, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) must regulate this and make it a license prerogative of not running the watermark if the broadcaster uses landing page. The DPOs will still find takers in broadcasters to use this medium to promote. The broadcaster maintained that the DPOs don’t want to put in the effort and hence, it’s easy to sell this to broadcasters as it has immediate impact on ratings.
On the other hand, Vivek Parakh emphatically stated, “We don’t need landing pages. Thus, there will be no forced viewing. However, landing pages should always be without watermark, there should be no landing page which promotes only a single channel.”
Shirish Patanshetty here noted that for broadcasters, it would be by default, otherwise today most of the networks either had commercials running or a shopping channel on the landing page. “However, lately the shopping channels have been taking a big hit due to e-commerce platforms, hence broadcasters can get away with it, otherwise the revenue from shopping channels and commercials was much higher,” he added.