When England cricketer Kevin Pietersen first executed a switch hit, some teams called the shot illegal, and sought umpire intervention. While that question was settled on the cricket field, in the domain of television viewership measurement, a battle erupted between two business news channels over who was watched more on Budget Day.
Broadcasters today use various innovative strategies to stay ahead of competition. One of them is to run a channel on multiple feeds, so as to increase its visibility.
A similar situation has arisen now. Wherein ET Now from the Times Group umbrella claims that its rival CNBC-TV18 played foul by placing itself on multiple frequencies on Budget Day, and that helped bump up its viewership. CNBC TV18 on the other hand says it played within the rules.
The channel has written to IBF, NBA and BARC India complaining that CNBC TV18 made its Budget Coverage feed available on multiple frequencies, which on other days carry its group channels.
BARC India in September 2016 had put up a policy regarding measurement of channels available on multiple frequencies. As per the policy, "Broadcasters may opt to make their channel(s) available on more than one slot/frequency on a particular distribution platform for a variety of reasons: such decisions are entirely within domain of the Broadcaster and distribution platform (DTH, Cable etc.). Regulatory issues pertaining to this, if any, would lie within domain of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and/or Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)."
"Our mandate is to measure TV viewership, and we do this with the help of Unique Watermarking ID assigned to each channel. Thereby, viewership of a channel available on multiple platforms are aggregated as per our clearly defined policy of Sept 2016. Further if our guidelines on public reporting of data are being violated, parties should approach ASCI for redressal," says BARC India CEO Partho Dasgupta on the matter.
One industry expert has compared the situation to a supermarket: where a company can legitimately buy any number of shelves to boost visibility of its products and thereby push sales. Neither can the store be accused of malpractice, nor can competition cry foul.
According to ET Now, CNBC TV18 benefited from a higher opportunity to see and thus, expanded coverage. It claims BARC India should not have counted all these instances as viewership of a single channel, i.e., CNBC TV18.
According to a letter to NBA sourced by exchange4media, Times Network highlights the malpractice by CNBC TV18, “This has reference to the BARC ratings published on February 9, 2017, for the coverage by CNBC TV18, a channel operated by “TV18” during the Budget week i.e. for the period January 28, 2017 to February 3, 2017. We wish to highlight that during this week, we see a sudden spike in the reach of this channel, especially on and around the budget day. Such extreme spikes are unprecedented and unheard of in the industry, and therefore, we were forced to do a research on the cause and activity carried out by the broadcaster.”
The letter further goes on to state, “Upon investigation by our team and from the information gathered from the ground and relevant markets, it was revealed that such unnatural increase in the rating is not due to the channel’s coverage or the relevance of the day’s programming but due to the malpractices carried out by TV18 to gain advantage over other competing channels including our channel ET Now. TV 18 has adopted an unethical and wrongful practice of replacing the feeds of its network/bouquet channels with the feeds of CNBC TV18’s in the MSOs like, to name a few, GTPL, InCable, E-Infra, Kaizen, Digicable, Manthan, Barasat, Meghbela.”
The issue of broadcasters using multiple or dual feeds of the channel has been taken up by the NBA in the past wherein it was resolved that participating members should not indulge in such wrongful activities. However, CNBC TV 18 has completely disregarded without paying heed to this directive, accused Times Network.
"CNBC-TV 18 has been and continues to be the undisputed leader in Business News in India and the leadership that it enjoys is based on its compelling content and stellar marketing and distribution support that it enjoys.
This time for the budget was no exception. From last year’s 72% channel share we upped the level to 86% for the budget day this year. It’s a testimony to our superior content, marketing and distribution efforts. The loyalty that the CNBC- TV18 brand enjoys amongst its viewers makes it the number 1 channel every week and not just budget days and budget weeks.
We have not received any official communication in this regard. It is indeed unfortunate that our name is being dragged into false accusations and propaganda by competition. It seems like a clear cut case of sour grapes for competition. The people verdict is clear and everyone should respect it,” said a CNBC Spokesperson on the matter.
Times Network, however, declined to comment on the issue when exchange4media reached out to them on this matter.