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Broadcasters draw parallel between landing page and ‘free basic’, seek TRAI’s action

In various letters written to the BARC board, several broadcasters have highlighted the ill-effects of landing channel usage, when used for purposes other than marketing. The networks, mostly regional, have claimed landing page will affect the principle of broadcasting neutrality the same way Facebook's Free Basic was affecting net neutrality in the country

The landing page usage controversy doesn't seem to be settling anytime soon even when a two-member industry committee is reviewing the pros and cons of it.

In several fresh letters to the Telecom Regularity Authority of India (TRAI), a section of broadcasters, mostly regional, have said allowing the usage of landing page is an abusive practice by players who have abundant resources and it doesn't provide a fair playing ground to others.

In scathing letters to TRAI, the broadcasters said using landing page is against the principle of neutrality the same way Facebook's Free Basic programme was affecting net neutrality in the country.

The broadcasters claim the unchecked landing page usage will cause an action replay of the ‘net neutrality’ controversy.

Facebook’s Free Basics program gave free access to basic internet services to users who could not afford 4G data plans and were still using slower 2G networks. Though Facebook wasn’t charging users anything extra, the notion of favouring access to certain content went against the basic principle of net neutrality. TRAI banned Free Basics and other similar services such as Airtel Zero in February 2016.

As a result, the broadcasters are now hoping TRAI to step in and ban landing page as they did for Free Basic.

Several broadcasters across markets have also written letters to BARC techcom, highlighting the ill-effects of landing channel usage, when used for purposes other than marketing, to make representations.

A broadcaster stated that large broadcast networks have traditionally owned the vertical value chain in the form of MSOs/ LCOs and leveraged ownership in MSOs to garner several prime landing channel spots across different markets.

The broadcaster said, “This is a clear replay of the compromising net neutrality practice on the part of the broadcaster. The industry needs to set right this as it will marginalise good content and those channels that do not entertain such practices. This needs to be curbed and needs industry self-regulation, as it will vitiate competition and is an unfair practice despite being legal.”

Stop measuring landing page viewership

The broadcasters also proposed a few measures to address the abuse without restraining the MSOs’ revenue stream. The broadcasters suggested that the landing page should be used only for promotion without BARC watermark and the joint industry body should find a technical solution to remove landing channel from its measurement.

“Until BARC can implement a full technical solution, it must be directed to manually correct the viewership data for cleaning out landing channel reach getting reported as legitimate reach. There should also be a rule ensuring that person or company owning distribution and broadcast is not allowed to use landing channel for their own channels. Similarly, no quid-pro-quo deals between two groups having a similar distribution and broadcast asset control, enabling mutual exploitation of landing channels, to circumvent the use of landing-channel for own broadcasting assets,” the broadcasters said in the letter.

The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal’s (TDSAT), a few months ago, had allowed landing page placement for TV channels.

Currently, BARC doesn't have a digital mechanism to find if impressions are organic or through the landing page. Data segregation is manual, which has been questioned by several broadcasters. The lack of transparency in the outlier policy of BARC India, which excludes viewership coming through the use of landing page, is a major challenge for the broadcasters.

Though a BARC-appointed, two-member committee comprising former BARC India chairman Nakul Chopra and Praveen Tripathi is reviewing and monitoring the data authentication process, some broadcasters feel favouritism could creep in the current manual system as there is a scope for manipulation.

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