The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal’s (TDSAT) decision to allow landing page placement for TV channels has created a clear divide in the industry. Some networks are opposing the decision, stating it would end fair-play, while several other distributors and networks have welcomed it.
Quite a few broadcasters and marketers said that with this decision, the industry is regressing to the analogue era where a network that pays more will get the reach. They pointed out that content will also be affected as now the focus will be more on buying reach than on content. Marketers also raised a concern about losing the premiumness of English news channels due to their availability on the landing page.
But many other leading broadcasters welcomed the decision, saying networks that want to use landing page as a marketing tool could do that now.
Multiple industry sources told BestMediaInfo.com that the use of the landing page was fine but the challenge is the lack of transparency in the outlier policy of BARC India. Under the policy, BARC excludes viewership coming through the use of landing page. But for channels that do not command a high viewership (English news channels), BARC doesn't have a digital mechanism to find out whether impressions are organic or through the landing page. Data segregation is done manually, which has been questioned by several broadcasters.
One network said the landing page wasn’t the issue but was of the view that the outlier policy and the mechanism that calculates the impressions was the biggest challenge for the industry. Since, BARC has also stated that there is no mechanism to segregate viewership of landing and organic viewership, the network’s spokesperson questioned its authenticity.
“All channels have watermark but it can’t be distinguished. BARC had said they don't have a mechanism. Now my question is if they don't have a mechanism, then how does the moderation come into play? Who decides that and why didn’t they discuss it with any industry body? No one has a clue about the issue; everybody is trying to play around the thing that smaller networks won't get the reach.”
The source added, “I have been told the outlier policy was not even discussed by TechCom of BARC because it needs to know what the policy is and needs to be signed off by various people to show there is a transparent mechanism. TRAI calls for an open forum discussion but here it is an absolute black box where nobody knows why it favours some while it is detrimental towards a few others. Until it is fair, we don't have any problem with it. If everybody’s landing page is getting discounted, we are absolutely fine with it. All we are saying is if their landing page is counted then our landing page views should also get counted. We are only seeking a level playing field.”
When BestMediaInfo.com spoke to a few experts on viewership measurement, they said that BARC was right in not exposing the full method to techcom members which also includes some interested stakeholders. "In a country like India, if logic and formulae are transparent then we all know that instances of gaming the system will only go up," an expert said.
Landing page is nothing more than a marketing tool
Earlier, mainly the GECs would buy the landing page. But two years ago, news channels started buying it too.
The network said the ongoing hue and cry is for nothing as they don't understand the issue. "For the past two years, Times Now and Republic have benefitted from the absence of an outlier policy. Now when others started doing it, everybody woke up and demanded an outlier policy from BARC, which is now in place," the source said.
On this, BestMediaInfo.com had already published a detailed piece explaining how BARC already had an outlier policy in place and established how detrimental it could be without that policy with the release of viewership data of Week 22.
In Week 22 of BARC data, CNN-News18 had witnessed an almost 500% jump in viewership. This led to several broadcasters questioning the authenticity of the rating. Many were of the view that the channel that buys the landing page will get an unfair advantage now that it has been legalised. It will also lead to force viewership for the consumer as the default channel will appear every time the television is switched on.
However, a network spokesperson said there can’t be a force viewership as the viewer has the choice of switching off the channel. The spokesperson said viewership is counted only if a person spends more than a minute on a channel.
“From the consumer point of view, if I switch on the digital set-top box and I get to see Times Now by default because of the landing page, according to BARC, that viewership doesn't count till it is one minute. So in that one minute if you don't like the channel you will move on. So nobody is forcing anybody to watch. Does it benefit viewership? It does but only if viewers switch off their set-top boxes every time. Generally, people switch off the TV, keeping the set-top boxes on. In such a case, it doesn't affect them, as the landing page comes up when the set-top box is switched off,” the source added.
BestMediaInfo.com’s article titled ‘Commentary: Why doesn’t BARC want to filter out the landing page outliers? had also detailed how a viewer can be and is being forced to watch a certain channel for a certain time.
Some marketers and media planners have also raised questions about the quality of content. According to experts, legalising landing page might take the focus away from content to buy reach.
But a network spokesperson said that the landing page allows viewers to sample a channel. So a landing page channel has to deliver good content so that people who normally don't select it sticks around.
“From a content standpoint, news channel content doesn't change because of distribution tactics. We are not an entertainment channel and hence we can’t shoot to suit a particular geography or anything else. If news happens in the area or the world, we are reactive and report it. So my content changes with or without the landing page,” the source stated.
Asked about the popular view that broadcasters with deep pockets are supporting the decision, the network said small and newly launched channels have been running landing channels for two years. “Republic was launched on Dual LCN and landing page. Now the issue is that Republic has moved a large number of their landing pages to R. Bharat. Since one MSO can only show one channel, they had to choose between two channels and they chose R. Bharat. As a result, the number of landing pages for Republic is less than what it was there two years ago. CNN-News18 became number one when the outlier policy was removed. This is what explains the entire hue-cry,” the source accused.