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Landing page developments: Some questions remain unanswered

On June 13, 2019, BARC India announced that it is reverting to its earlier method of filtering out outliers or abnormal reach from the landing page. The industry body stated that it was doing so after receiving representations from the industry and that the data would be reflective from Week 23 onwards. 

Broadcasters have heaved a sigh of relief as most felt that landing page should be nothing more than a marketing tool. Let the content be the draw for the viewers, is their contention. 

Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic Network, pointed out, “The entire industry has recognised that landing page is a malaise and using them to engineer ratings can have a detrimental impact on the industry. Broadcasters relying on landing pages to build their ratings and business should focus on utilising the resources efficiently and direct it towards content enhancement and viewer experience. It will improve the quality standard of the content.” 

He also noted that there is a claim by some that it is a bonafide marketing tool and that landing page is akin to prime shelf space in stores. Reacting to that, Khanchandani said, “My only response to the self-proclaimed serious players is then run your promotion on landing pages without the watermark. If you believe the content is great, the teasers and promo will surely entice the viewers to go to the respective channel and watch your content, which will be true bonafide marketing tool. If you speak with any FMCG player they will tell you that prime shelf space placement does not come with assured market share or usership. The consumer will sample and if your product is good, the consumer will buy again. Hence, these tools are used for higher salience and visibility during launch and not round the year.” 

While Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, concurred that landing page is a marketing tool used by broadcasters, he maintained, “This is a direct assault on the freedom of press. There are media companies whose pockets are deep and there are some whose parent companies also run cable companies. It is unfair that they get to control what people watch. Investing in landing pages is a marketing activity that media companies can take up. But then, BARC shouldn’t consider numbers of landing pages for defining ratings. This move will not just hurt broadcasters but the overall industry in the long run.” 

Some unanswered questions 

Summing up the current situation, Abhay Ojha, President – Sales & Marketing, News Nation Network, remarked that the fact today stands as thus – BARC had been moderating data from landing pages/ dual LCN earlier, which after TDSAT order discontinued, but again reverted to status quo. He further said that this position raised several questions as mentioned below: 

  1. BARC had always maintained that its viewership reflected what India watches, but if moderation of data was being done, then I feel the industry was not getting the right picture of viewership. Since BARC India has no mechanism to differentiate organic viewership from dual/ landing LCN, so if at all moderation was taking place, how was it done? Was the process was fair? Did the three stakeholders (ISA, IBF, AAAI) approve such move? Did BARC bring these to the notice of its stakeholders? These are some of the many unanswered questions that BARC should clarify. In fact, during all our interactions with BARC, they had clearly stated that landing / dual LCN viewership is purely broadcasters’ prerogative and they cannot do anything, but report data as it is, then suddenly a claim of moderation basis reach outliers is claimed by BARC. 
  1. Even if one assumes that algorithm based smoothening of data was done for bigger genres, there always stood a chance that ratings of some players would get averaged out irrespective of the dynamics involved. Especially in the Hindi News genre, where there’s almost level playing field for all channels in terms of content availability, smaller channels would get most affected. The basic premise of taking a landing page/ dual LCN is that it doubles the probability of sampling of a channel, which in turn increases reach as well as lifts the time spent on the channel. The combined factor of these two results in the increase of TRP of the channel. 
  1. Landing page viewership isn’t fair play, as whoever has deep pockets would benefit. Having said that, I must point out that those channels who had built themselves on landing pages and dual LCN, would their reach have been unprecedented had BARC not moderated data? What I intend to point out is, we for sure know which are the channels who had been utilising landing pages/ dual LCN, had BARC not normalised their reach, are we to say that they would have crossed the No.1 player in reach? 
  1. Finally, am I to assume that it had been a waste of money for those news broadcasters who had invested on landing page/ dual LCN in a hope to get higher reach because as per BARC’s claim, their viewership had been normalised prior to Week 22? 

As is known, BARC had released the unfiltered ratings data for Week 22, that is the ratings of channels placed on landing pages along with bonafide channel ratings. This was done post the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) May 31, 2019 judgement, which stated that landing page was not illegal and could be bought by channels. 

However, this move was opposed by broadcasters as they said that it would change the TV ratings dynamics. They also wrote to BARC India cautioning it that by “legitimising the Landing Channel abusive practices’, BARC was “taking a retrograde step and letting induced reach to get approval and sanction”.

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