The complaint written by BCCL alleged that its competitor replaced the feeds of its network/bouquet channels with the feed of CNBC-TV18 in the networks of many MSOs
BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | February 14, 2017
ET Now, the English business news channel from Times Network, has questioned competitor CNBC-TV18 for garnering ‘unnaturally’ high viewership during the Budget week. Times Network has sent the complaint to various industry bodies, including Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF), News Broadcasters Association (NBA), Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC India), Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA).
ET Now has requested the industry bodies to take action against CNBC-TV18 and also to demand an apology for its act, if found guilty. It has also demanded that the various bodies put up the case on their respective websites and take strict action.
Accusations have also been made against advertisements by the Network 18 channel about the viewership during this time. The complaint written by Bennett, Coleman & Company Ltd (BCCL), the holding company of Times Network, to each of the above industry bodies stated that CNBC-TV18 resorted to replacing the feeds of its network/bouquet channels with the feed of CNBC-TV18 in the networks of multi-system operators (MSOs) like GTPL, InCable, E-Infra, Kaizen, Digicable, Manthan, Barasat and Meghbela.
The complaint requested action to be taken against the alleged malpractices by the channel (CNBC-TV18). The complaint letters that Best Media Info has in its possession said: “During the Budget week, one channel resorted to a certain method to spike its numbers. As per BARC ratings published on February 9, ET Now observed a sudden spike in the reach of CNBC-TV18 during the Budget week (between January 28 and February 3, 2017). An advertisement making the same claim was circulated as an e-mailer by CNBC-TV18. The extreme spike of 2,280,000 Impressions in just that one week, which featured the telecast of the Union Budget, from an average reach of 289,000 Impressions in the previous 13 weeks, compelled ET Now to conduct further research on the suspicious activity carried out by the broadcaster.”
Increase in the viewership numbers of business news channels on Budget day and Budget week are not surprising. Budget is arguably the only time of the year when the business news channels see an unrivalled hike in viewership. This year though, the demonetisation was also an event to garner viewership for this genre. However, the claims made by ET Now against CNBC-TV18 look grave at the outset and it may raise an argument in the industry.
Here is what ET Now had to say. “In the investigation carried out by the ET Now team, supplemented by information gathered from the relevant markets, it was revealed that such an unnatural increase in the rating was not due to the channel’s coverage or the relevance of the day’s programming, but due to the certain practices carried out by TV18 Broadcast Limited to gain an unfair advantage over other competing channels. The broadcaster resorted to replacing the feeds of its network/bouquet channels with the feed of CNBC-TV18, in the networks of MSOs like GTPL, InCable, E-Infra, Kaizen, Digicable, Manthan, Barasat and Meghbela.”
It alleged that CNBC-TV18 replaced the regional channels under the broadcast network Network 18, which include Colors Bangla and ETV News Bangla in Kolkata, while in Bengaluru market Colors Kannada and ETV News Kannada, Colors Gujarati and ETV News Gujarati (in Gujarat), Colors Marathi in Maharashtra, ETV Madhya Pradesh Chhatisgarh in Madhya Pradesh, ETV Bihar Jharkhand in Jharkhand, ETV Rajasthan in Rajasthan, ETV Uttar Pradesh Uttarakhand in UP, ETV Haryana Himachal Pradesh in PHCHP and J&K and Colors Odia and ETV News Odia in Odia.
According to the complaint, “The rating system of BARC captured the ratings of all the parallel local cable networks (LCNs) on various networks and reported the same collectively as ratings for CNBC-TV18. This was not just an addition to the regular and normal rating of the existing channel, but also a multiplication of the ratings, causing a sharp and unnatural spike. This fact could be corroborated by comparing the ratings of the regional channels, Colors and ETV, especially in the territories of Delhi, Bengaluru, Maharashtra, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, as these saw a drop in their ratings on Budget day.”
When contacted, Joy Chakraborthy, President, Revenues, Network18, said, "CNBC-TV18 is the undisputed leader in business news in India since inception. This leadership comes from its compelling content and stellar marketing and distribution support. The loyalty that the CNBC-TV18 brand enjoys amongst its viewers makes it the No 1 channel every week and not just on special days."
Speaking about this specific event, Chakraborthy said, "This year's budget performance was not surprising as year on year the maximum eyeballs are on CNBC-TV18. Even the advertising fraternity supports that as maximum sponsors and advertisers are on CNBC-TV18 to get the maximum for their buck. From last year's 72 per cent channel share, we upped the level to 86 per cent for the budget day this year. It's a testimony to our superior content, marketing and distribution efforts."
When quipped about the complaint filed by ET Now, Chakraborthy said that they have not yet seen the complaint. "While we are not aware of any complaint filed by anyone, it is indeed unfortunate that our name is being dragged into false accusations and propaganda by competition. It seems like a clearcut case of sour grapes for competition. The people’s verdict is clear and everyone should respect it. In fact, CNN News18 was also the No 1 channel in Megacities on Budget day (32.4 per cent) and almost double of Times Now (18.5 per cent)."
Considering that the viewership numbers swelled, it also comes under BARC India’s purview whether the viewership can be expanded by such methods. Also, the usage of market share in the advertisement material has been restricted by BARC and ASCI, which also brings the matter under the advertising standards council’s jurisdiction.
BARC India measures viewership based on the watermarking technology wherein each channel has a different watermark. When asked will the technology work in this case, Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India, said, "Watermarking ID is not impacted by channels position/slot/frequency. WM is an advanced technology that captures information of which channel is being watched and for how long, irrespective of its position."
He also added, "BARC India viewership data is platform agnostic. If the channel – as part of the broadcaster's distribution strategy – is available on multiple platforms/slots/frequencies, it would be reported on the basis of Watermarking ID detected by our system. With regard to this, we had issued a policy in September 2015. BARC India does not dictate commercial distribution arrangements – all such issues, if disputed, should be brought to the notice of regulators and ministry."
If the accusation is proven, is it a ratings related issue? Dasgupta replied, "Our mandate is to measure what people watch, and for how long. As far as reporting of data in public is concerned, we have guidelines in place, which have been communicated to all clients, and have also put up on our website. If anyone feels our guidelines are being violated, they should approach ASCI for redressal."
If proven correct, this is not the first instance where a channel has put out multiple feeds to beef up viewership numbers. As reported by Business Standard, Times Now and India Today Television were both on dual frequency. This was at the time when India Today Group had revamped and renamed its English news channel Headlines Today to India Today TV. Jagdish Kumar, CEO, Hathway Cable had confirmed of the dual frequency feeds of the two channels.