Landing Page row: Broadcasters highlight need to capture true viewership & genuine data

BARC India spokesperson says approval for 2-member committee was given to provide confidence to the industry

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jul 2, 2019 8:13 AM

The whole landing page controversy is far from over as the debate around BARC’s rating system continues. Even after a two-member committee has been appointed by the board of the joint industry body to review and monitor BARC’s outlier policy, broadcasters have their fair share of doubts.

Questions like ‘why did BARC have to appoint a committee if their outlier policy was already robust’ are doing the rounds.

A BARC India spokesperson said, “There has been a lot of confusion around the landing page issue in the market. Therefore, in order to give confidence to the industry and the stakeholders, the BARC board approved a recommendation to set a two-member committee. Nakul Chopra and Praveen Tripathi are industry leaders and their appointment only reiterates the BARC board’s reassurance to give confidence to the industry.”

The controversy regarding ratings started after it was made official around end of May that television channels could buy landing pages and it could not be held illegal. The recent landmark judgment of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which sets aside the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s direction dated December 3, 2018, certainly came as a breath of fresh air for broadcasters and distributors of television channels. But the celebrations didn’t last long. Soon after the order was passed, BARC India notified they would include the ratings of channels placed on landing page in its weekly ratings data.

Then came the first weekly data after the order was passed. The Week 22 television rating data put out by BARC showed CNN News 18 on the No. 1 spot followed by Republic TV, Times Now, DD India and India Today Television. Not many took the rating in their stride as it clearly started a new trend. Following a fresh round of debates and discussions, BARC India went back to the old rating formula where there was rationalisation of numbers. Under the same formula, any abnormal reach earlier is considered outlier, rationalised and moderated by BARC assuming it came from landing pages. News channels differed on opinion even as BARC switched back to rationalising outliers.

Finally, came the committee in discussion which is expected to review and monitor BARC’s outlier policy. However, broadcasters are still not sure if this is enough to ensure fair ratings.

There are also questions around whether the committee would benefit broadcasters or not.

“BARC has the tools and capability to identify and manage outliers with a fair degree of accuracy. It’s far sharper in the English genre as the outlier data is extremely visible across markets vis-a-vis the base contribution from that market. In the case of Hindi, on account of the large base of audience, the impact of Landing is spread out. The committee identified has industry stalwarts to facilitate and make sure BARC's efforts to control this nuisance is fortified,” said Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic TV.

“The industry will benefit if there are no artificial tools available for channels to skew ratings in their favour. Landing can be used as a marketing platform provided it doesn't carry the channel with its watermark. It's important for BARC to capture true viewership of channels sans landing impact on ratings and I am sure the committee will work towards it,” Khanchandani added.

According to Vivek Parakh, COO, IBC 24, “BARC has been claiming its process to be 100 per cent robust in identifying outliers. However, various checks were already in place but it didn’t solve the purpose.  If we look at the previous weeks’ data, a very common issue we faced is "The Outliers", as in Week 25 IND 24 performed weirdly in MPCG and concerns about that were raised to BARC in a detailed mail.” 

“BARC says it has a scientific approach when it comes to representing numbers. However, most broadcasters have seen unexpected figures and have approached BARC at different intervals of time. Since BARC is proposing to appoint a committee of two members, it is essential to know the exact role it will be performing in the coming times and the possibilities of expansion,” he added. “If it does find the solutions, what new parameters will this committee set and follow to make the data more discrete, genuine and believable,” questioned Parakh.

A host of broadcasters want to know whom this committee will be answerable to. Will there be a way for direct communications between the broadcasters and the committee? Will it find any solutions to disputes like ‘Landing Page’ and ‘The Outliers’?

According to an industry insider, “How does BARC justify circumventing the TDSAT order which allowed landing pages as ‘legal’, setting aside the TRAI order? What is the internal mechanism of BARC in weeding out outliers? How does BARC ensure it is not subjective? If BARC by its own admission doesn’t have the capability to identify landing pages, then how does it decide which outlier to weed out and which to keep? These questions remain unanswered with or without the committee.” 

While the BARC India spokesperson said that in spite of being requested by many stakeholders to continue with the outlier policy, an independent overview of the process and any recommendation to improve are always welcome and that recently Deloitte had done a detailed audit on this process and found it clean. But broadcasters are left with questions like ‘Who are these stakeholders’.

Clarifying their stand on landing page, the BARC spokesperson said, “BARC has and does maintain that they cannot identify Landing Pages. The process can, however, identify reach outliers which could happen for Landing Pages in big cable networks for smaller viewed channels or when there is a distribution intervention like activation or improvement in availability. The same principle applies to content interventions also. Most analysts who keenly watch these numbers, specially for genres like English news and Business News, do know this since the landing page discussions started some time back. At BARC, our mandate is to measure viewership with transparency and accuracy to provide a credible measurement.”

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