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The landing page conundrum; how to treat the outlier data?

The lack of clarity on how the spike in viewership which comes because of landing should be treated in the final TV news viewership data has confused both advertisers and broadcasters. What can be the possible solutions? finds out

The viewership data for TV news genre will be released from March 17 onwards, with a three-month historic data. 

According to industry executives, BARC India is facing a tough-time creating a consensus among all news broadcasters on how the viewership coming from the landing page should be treated.

Landing page, which allows channels to be the first one on which the viewer automatically lands on when she/he switches on the set-top box. It artificially inflates the TRPs of a TV channel present on 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 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 tampering. Some DPOs and MSOs can lock the timing to force watch a landing page to a certain amount of time and it is possible to do so through settings in the backend.

The I&B Ministry on September 5, 2017, had asked BARC India to stop ratings of TV channels using landing page. This was followed by TRAI directing all the broadcasters and distributors of television channels to restrain from placing any registered satellite television channel (whose TV rating was measured by BARC India) on the landing LCN or landing channel or boot up screen.

However, a few broadcasters managed to secure an order from the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in May 2019 setting aside TRAI’s direction on the landing page issue making it legal.

However, landing page has been at the centre of almost all the problems the ratings body has faced. 

Although all the genres use this tool very frequently for additional viewership, the entry of a few news channels made this tool far-more controversial.

It has been highlighted by several times (here and here) that landing page was “the tool” used by former CEO of BARC India, Partho Dasgupta, to suppress Times Now and benefit Republic TV when it launched in May 2017.

The forensic report by Acquisory found Republic TV’s final viewership data after outlier cleaning was surprisingly increased by 10, 4 and 3 TVTs in Week 27, 39 and 46 of 2017, respectively. Whereas, around half of the viewership numbers of Times Now were excluded despite the fact that Dasgupta was aware of Republic TV’s landing deals.

Looking at this, some broadcasters, especially who refrain from burning crores on this tool, are asking BARC India to find an acceptable and logical solution to this problem.

On the other hand, there are channels who have rampantly invested in buying landing pages and are in favour of measuring the data from landing pages. And these channels include Times Now, which was once a victim of the landing page phenomenon.

Close to five-years since the launch of Republic TV, landing page still remains the most controversial aspect of ratings.

As of January 14, 2022, over 180 headends from across the country were running landing pages of various news channels including News18 India, TV9 Bharatvarsh, Republic Bharat, ABP News, Times Now, Republic TV, Mirror Now and CNN-News18.

Multiple sources told that these channels have been continuing with their landing page strategy even during the ratings dark period so that they can benefit in the historic data to be released with the current data. The ratings will release on March 17, 2022 with three months’ historic data.

Most of these channels are expecting returns on their investment as the outlier policy of BARC India is based on algorithm and cannot weed out the impact of landing page completely.

Then there are broadcasters who are banking on their content and prioritise profitability over creating another monster like “placement fees”. 

“There are a few channels who cannot even afford to buy landing pages which costs between 2X to 3X of the regular carriage deal. For example, if a channel signs carriage deal with a cable operator for Rs 10 lakh a year, the same deal costs about Rs 40 lakh with landing page,” said a broadcasting industry expert. 

A channel typically spends around Rs 50 crore on distribution across 3,500 headends. But the landing page deals are locked with large-sized headends in strategic markets considered important from a viewership point of view for that channel. Landing pages for a Hindi news channel across 50 large-sized headends cost almost the same amount which is being spent for the whole distribution.

These broadcasters are pushing for parity and a level-playing field. They want that the impact of landing page should either be completely removed from the final data, or it should be reported separately.

In both the circumstances, the ROI for the broadcasters investing on landing pages would be severely impacted.

How do advertisers view this?

The use of landing page by English channels may lead to spillover viewership as advertisers paying for niche English audiences will attract regional viewers too.

On the other hand for many advertisers it really doesn’t matter whether the reach is coming from the landing page, especially if the campaign objective is to drive reach.

BARC India does not flag any information about the impact of landing in the viewership numbers. Non-segregation of viewership data also makes it tough for advertisers to determine if their money invested is delivering the right ROI or not.

A leading large-sized advertiser on TV news said that it was important for them to get a complete picture on viewership while planning media spends and hence it is important to know the impact of landing page on the viewership of any channel.

Possible solutions

The last update the industry heard from BARC India about landing page was before the TRP scam broke out. On September 3, 2020, BARC India introduced algorithms into its data validation method to mitigate the impact of landing page on viewership data across all genres of channels.

Derrick Gray, Chief of Measurement Science & Business Analytics, BARC India, had claimed that BARC India will now be able to mitigate any landing page anomaly to better reflect viewer’s choice.

Previously, the outliers were removed on the basis of symptomatic statistics. BARC replaced it with a method that directly uses inferential statistics to deliver better results across all genres.

BARC India is said to have improved the outlier management further during the rating dark period. But is this fool-proof? Nobody can claim so.

In order to bring transparency in the outlier management system and create a consensus among all the players on this issue, reporting the impact of landing pages separately is so far being seen as a middle ground. 

“This would not give unfair advantage to the channel resorting to landing page as the advertiser would know the spillover,” said another broadcasting expert speaking under conditions of anonymity. 

“However, the flip side is that the same channel can continue creating troubles for BARC India every week seeking why ‘certain’ number is attributed to the landing page,” the expert added. 

BARC had done this once in the past. Reporting the viewership data for the English news genre for Week 33 of 2018 on August 27, 2018, BARC had mentioned above the chart: “Certain channels in the genre are seeing higher growth in Week 33 2018 due to some on-ground changes.”

Experts say that the ratings agency needs to do this more precisely, revealing the exact impact and not leave this opaque and vague for different interpretations.

“The possible solution is that the agency spells out the data coming from landing pages in a more granular form and a set format. So that it becomes clear to both advertisers and broadcasters and there are no controversies in the future,” the expert added.

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