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Ranking Pay and FTA channels together: It hurts perception of flagship channels raises yet another pertinent issue on why it is inappropriate to rank both FTA and Pay channels together by BARC India for public and media consumption. The broadcast industry is uncomfortable. Over to BARC now

Ranking Pay and FTA channels together: It hurts perception of flagship channels raises yet another pertinent issue on why it is inappropriate to rank both FTA and Pay channels together by BARC India for public and media consumption. The broadcast industry is uncomfortable. Over to BARC now

Niraj Sharma | Delhi | December 3, 2015


Around the middle of last month, when raised the question why TVT was reduced to become a metric for media and public rather than being perceived as a robust single metric dealing in absolute numbers, we got the cue on yet another issue related to the television viewership data that is shared in public. With the inclusion of rural data into All India data, BARC India ratings began fairly and robustly representing what India watches. However, ranking of Free-to-Air (FTA) and Pay channels together by the rating agency raised many eyebrows, particularly from Hindi general entertainment channels. It is important to note here that FTA channels in Hindi GEC genre thrive on library content which is curated from Pay channels belonging to their own group or network.

It was understood that TVT was made a mandatory metric for public and media usage because "public perception about ratings" was equally important. Going by that logic, when both Pay and FTA channels are being ranked together for the use of public and media, there is a logical perception issue.

All the four major broadcasters in Hindi general entertainment – Star, Zee, Colors and Sony – have an FTA channel in their bouquet – Star Utsav, Zee Anmol, Colors Rishtey and Sony PAL, respectively. These FTA channels air the best of content from the library of their network channels while reaching out to people in rural India. In the current scheme of things where their FTA channels are ranked above their mainline/flagship channels, for example, Zee Anmol above Zee TV and &tv, Star Utsav above Life OK, Sony PAL above SAB TV, one can sense some amount of unrest among the broadcasters.

While Star India and Zee TV chose not to speak on record despite expressing their discontent over ranking Pay and FTA channels together, Colors and Sony came out openly to express their concerns and explained how it was “unfair to compare apples with oranges”.

Raj-Nayak-150 Raj Nayak

Raj Nayak, CEO of Colors, said, “The Urban and Rural viewers are two completely different set of consumers, differentiated across multiple parameters – demographic profile, content consumption, product consumption, price sensitivity, and so on and so forth. Due to the highly price sensitive nature of the Rural consumer set, the FTA play is significantly high. If one analyses the data, the four main Hindi FTA channels put together account for significantly higher viewership than the 6-7 mainline National Pay Hindi GECs and this becomes even more pronounced in the hardcore Hindi belt, where the digitization drive too is lagging behind. And a look at the content on these FTA channels validates that all these channels are thriving on library content which have been curated from the Hindi Pay channels. So the pipeline of these FTA channels is non-existent without the content from these Pay channels. Hence, to compare the two different set of channels (Pay and FTA) on the same parameters logically is incorrect from an industry POV.”

“However, the appropriate monetization of rural eyeballs – a viewer set which was till recently non-measured – should be the way going forward, both from a Pay channel as well as FTA perspective. The broadcaster should get the right value for the set of these eyeballs, and that is how the industry should grow,” added Nayak.

Nayak believes that a mixed ranking of Pay and FTA channels across the strata doesn’t make any sense at all. “It should be the prerogative of any brand / broadcaster to determine the turf wherein it wants to compete, and position itself accordingly. Also to say that a channel with library content delivers higher viewership than a premium pay channel is like taking one step backward for the content industry at a time when we are taking about bringing to the Indian viewers evolved and world class content.”

Rohit Gupta Rohit Gupta

Echoing Nayak’s view, Rohit Gupta, President, Sony Pictures Networks that runs Sony Entertainment Television, SAB TV and Sony PAL, said, “Clearly, free to air channels address a very different market than the pay channels. Considering the consumption pattern in urban versus rural which is in the ratio of 80:20, it is logical not to compare them together not only from media but also from advertisers point of view.”

“However, now the FTA channels will open up a new revenue stream for the broadcasters with rural data that captures their viewership but that would not be at the cost of Pay channels,” added Gupta.

Shashi Sinha Shashi Sinha

Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands and Chairman of BARC India’s Technical Committee, commented, “The users have all the data separately in BARC’s software and as head of Techcomm my role ends there. As far as the mixed ranking of Pay and FTA channels shared by BARC in public is concerned, media is most welcome to suggest fair practices but this is something between you and BARC.”

Partho Dasgupta Partho Dasgupta

When we approached BARC India CEO Partho Dasgupta, he did not comment on the ranking of Pay and FTA channels together. Rather, he termed it as a non-issue. “All users can slice and dice our data in multiple ways including Rural and Urban. Data is seen by users not only for Urban and Rural but dissected by many other variables,” said Dasgupta.

Anita Nayyar Anita Nayyar

Industry veteran and CEO-India & South Asia of Havas Media Group, Anita Nayyar, too believes that comparison between Pay and FTA channels is unreasonable. However, Nayyar felt the need to compare the penetration of Pay vs FTA channels in a particular location in order to find the answers. “Pay channels by definition are those which viewers pay for and FTA by definition come free but content is what viewers go after,” added Nayyar.

The question now is whether BARC India will pay heed to these views and review the rankings issue for the public and media. The broadcast industry has spoken. Now it is over to BARC.

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