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Commentary: Why doesn’t BARC want to filter out the landing page outliers?

The joint industry body can easily end confusion on the viewership data that would come from landing page by marking it as outliers so that the media planners and the industry knows the difference between the actual viewership and the spike coming through landing page. But why isn’t it doing so?

Ever since the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order has made landing page legal for broadcasters, it was expected to spell chaos for the broadcast industry, and it was visible in the latest week’s viewership data for English news channels.

Following the order, BARC India, the joint industry body for viewership measurement, decided to release the data as it comes, despite the fact that the TDSAT order has not asked it to not to filter out the outliers. 

Prior to this order, BARC was marking the outliers coming from landing page which used to reduce the impact of landing page.

So, it could be safely said that the English news channels who were accused of rampant usage of landing pages were not getting the full viewership garnered from landing page. Hence, what happened in Week 22 was a result of BARC not filtering out outliers on the basis of reach.

This also interprets that if BARC continued filtering out outliers, CNN-News18, Republic TV and Times Now would not have recorded such high numbers in the last week.

What will BARC do going forward? Will it keep giving data as a whole or revert to filtering outliers? Or will it wait for someone (broadcasters/stakeholders) to go to court on this issue?

The reason why BARC India is releasing unfiltered data is that it is still waiting for clarity from either the Indian Broadcasters Federation (IBF) or what if any of the players decided to go to court.

Judicially speaking, BARC India should not be burning its fingers on this issue. If any of the broadcasters have a problem with landing page or viewership, they can easily approach the courts and the industry body will have to go by the court order. Or if the industry comes on the same page on the landing page viewership issue, the IBF can ask BARC to mark the outliers in its data that are coming through landing page.

How has BARC been tackling the landing page issue so far?

When a broadcaster takes landing on big networks, its reach increases exponentially. Such big networks, for example, are Fastway in Punjab, GTPL in Gujarat and Asianet in Kerala. If the reach is abnormally high, the algorithm was marking that as an outlier and filtered that out. Even as it was not attributed officially to landing page, it was understood that such abnormalities are due to landing page. This also meant that abnormal reach would be called outlier even if it comes through some other means because BARC does not get to know if any viewership is coming through landing page.

The combination of reach along with average time spent (ATS) comes from good content while a sudden increase in any one of these two is treated as an outlier by the system. Higher reach all of a sudden indicates landing page or multiple placements of a channel while high ATS raises alarms about panel home tempering.

In case of any abnormal increase in both, it has to be backed by strong and unusual content which is checked by BARC and then allowed to be added to the final data.

If a viewer has a certain habit of viewing, the system checks if the viewer is watching as per his habits. If the same viewer suddenly starts watching something else, the system calls it an outlier. And verifies the data before leaving it out.

Suppose the viewer usually watches English entertainment. Suddenly, it was noticed that the same viewer watched three hours of programming on a Hindi GEC. Firstly, the system will alarm about this suspicious behaviour and the data will be separated. The system will check if the long viewing was backed by strong content, say a film award show or a certain movie. Then this data will be added. If the viewership is not backed by strong content, then the data will be omitted.

Take the example of the ongoing World Cup or recently held elections or Abhinandan’s return. In all these cases, reach increased along with ATS and the viewership was reported as genuine.

There are more complications. If a channel goes to base+1 package from base+3, your reach will certainly increase and that’s not treated as an outlier.

Some DPOs and MSOs can lock the timing to force watch a landing page to a certain minute and it is possible through settings in the backend.

So the factors contributing to higher reach are content, packages, actual distribution and landing.

Let’s leave English news as it is a debatable genre and pick English entertainment for example. Whenever a viewer or a family watches an English GEC, they watch it for a longer spell and the viewership soars for that channel. It’s because the representation of panel homes for the genre is extremely low and 2-3 people change the entire viewership of a channel. The same case is with the English business news genre. Smaller the genre more is the sensitivity.

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