BARC order on landing page is hostile: MK Anand

As part of e4m Conclave, Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network, said they are contemplating legal action on BARC's decision to mitigate landing page influence on TV viewership

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Sep 15, 2020 9:16 AM  | 7 min read
Mk Anand

On the virtual e4m Conclave series yesterday, MK Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network, shared insights on ‘Decoding television viewing in the multi-screen environment’. The session saw Anand having an intriguing conversation with Nawal Ahuja, Co-Founder, exchange4media Group, on the broadcast industry. Anand spoke about the recovery of business at Times Network amid COVID pandemic, how the subscription model has helped the network build revenue, NTO, landing pages, and the way forward for the broadcast industry.

Recovery of business amid COVID pandemic

Starting the virtual discussion, Anand shared, “We have fortunately been within a single-digit variation vis-a-vis last year in the first half. We are going to be closing September in the next 15 days and it is looking like we will be no more than 9% lower than last year, and this is including election revenues from last year. From an industry point of view, for television and advertising, September probably is the first month when there are some signs of things being not as broken as they were even until August. I’m also talking from the group’s point of view; (for) our radio, print, movie and digital business, overall recovery has begun in September. If current conditions are going to hold, then in Q3, we might be getting to a place where we are not broken anymore.”

He added, “We have been lucky because we have a large news portfolio with us and news has been quite active in terms of advertising as well. A lot of banks have wanted to participate in branded content and content integrated activities and we have pursued a lot of those initiatives. In the last three-four years, we have also pivoted quite sharply and successfully in subscription and content as a direct revenue source than as a secondary revenue source through ad sales. For us, NTO was a watershed moment, where the consumers got the power for their money spent and we picked up quite popularly. We were able to build a decent subscription business. Subscription is an important part of our revenue, and this year, it has held us at a time when ad sales have been gently collapsing. We have been nursing our English entertainment channels where our ad sales have not been up to the mark.”

Implementation of NTO

“The base thing that NTO 1 did last year was that it disturbed a very long inertia system. An unsaid norm of Rs 250 for TV was there for the last 20 years. This change for the first time had a break in the equilibrium, and that break benefited the customer, and therefore, NTO is in a way good. We have done a lot of branding for Times Now, Movies Now, ET Now and Times Network. So when we presented the MAN pack last year, it made an impression. And the Rs 10 pack we put out was a bank for money for the kind of channels we were providing. We are one of the highest paid news bouquets. As long as news is going to be ad-led, you will have time spent dictate, like it has been doing,” said Anand.

He suggested that major broadcasters should understand the potential and start charging for the news channel they are putting out there as they have millions of users. “Consumers will pay for the news channels. I would like to be facing a day when we would be able to have a news channel which has no ads, and at least one channel amongst mine where we can say that this channel is paid for by the viewers. Where the journalist who is getting paid for is only responsible to the viewer and not to advertisers," he commented.

Regulation on news channels

“As long as you are within the fact and the limits of truth, your presentation style can not be held against you. Anybody who is doing anything in a free capitalist consumer-oriented product market situation like the news is doing so because its what the consumer wants. However, how you say that and the tone of the presenter’s voice, is entirely left to the consumer and the presenter and we shouldn’t be a judge of that,” opined Anand.

Transition from TAM to BARC

“TAM was covering about 40% of India’s geography and extrapolating it on the rest of India. They had around 10,000 boxes, and now we are operating with around 40,000-plus boxes with BARC. Today, the bulk of the boxes are in rural, which means representation is more and cable operators in all those points become important from a measurement standpoint. Therefore, we need to be in those areas. We adapted to it way back in 2014-2015. When I joined, we had around 300 deals out there with MSOs and DTH operators, and in one and a half years, it went up to 3,000. That is an expansion of our network into every little place that otherwise would not have been there. The expansion of BARC led to an increase in television viewership. The reach of TV went up and a lot of players like us have continuously increased their distribution to be seen where the new boxes are going. That has also paid for in advertising because there has been an almost 11% growth in CAGR in TV advertising revenue,” he elaborated.

Next big thing for TV industry

“The big growth is going to come from certain paradigm shifts that have happened in production technology, collaboration technology, and work process due to COVID which has pushed the wall. It is going to fundamentally improve the economics of the industry. The money that is going to get saved is going to be invested in better content and more content. Digital technology is also going to help distribute more number of channels and increase and improve our portfolios,” opined Anand.

Landing Pages

“I was very surprised that they have unilaterally come up with this diktat that they will remove landing page influence. My fundamental argument is that the reach that is coming out of landing pages is not spurious reach. Unlike the reach that is coming out of panel tampering, it is not real reach because it is only tampering that particular box that is getting measured and blindsights the advertiser. As far as the advertiser is concerned, if you’re putting your ad on the landing page you are getting your reach. If BARC is measuring what India watches for creating a metric for the Indian advertiser to buy, then it shouldn’t be saying anything about the landing page. Secondly, the leftist arguments have been about businesses that cannot afford to advertise. So there have been certain moves from MIB, TRAI, and it was challenged in court. We actually had a case with TRAI. Now, TRAI has challenged us in Supreme Court and the matter is subjudice. In the meanwhile, they shouldn’t be saying that they have created an algorithm that will take out the spurious landing pages. We are now planning a legal recourse for this order,” he said.

Broadcast industry going forward

Anand concluded saying, “In the next 10 years, the broadcast would have fused with digital OTT. Television is already digital. The only difference is that right now it is linear, and in the future, it will be non-linear; two-way communication. The moment two-way communication will start happening with better bandwidth and once 5G happens, I think we will have talking television channels. When I look at Times Now in the future, I will have the option of 5-6 breaking news at any point in time. I will also have different state news playing out. If I want connected views on the same content, you will have what you see on Netflix recommendations right now.”

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