News channels differ in opinion as BARC goes back to old rating formula
As BARC included landing page viewership for calculation, broadcasters who saw their ratings go down slammed the move while those who went up the scale supported it
On May 31, it was made official that television channels could buy landing pages and it will not be considered illegal. The landmark judgment of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which sets aside the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) direction dated December 3, 2018, certainly came as a breath of fresh air for broadcasters and distributors of television channels.
However, with the judgement, came a new set of problems. Soon after the order was passed, BARC India notified that it would include the ratings of channels placed on landing pages in the weekly ratings data. Many broadcasters detested the move that nullified TRAI’s restraint on all broadcasters and distributors of TV channels from placing any registered TV channel on the landing page. Some broadcasters wrote a letter to BARC, requesting it to “reconsider and reinstate the appropriate moderation policies.”
Then came BARC’s first weekly rating data after the order. Not many took the Week 22 rating in their stride as it clearly started a new trend. Many of these broadcasters were also of the opinion that TDSAT’s order defies the very objective of digitisation. There was, however, another school of thought that considered investing in landing pages a bona fide marketing activity.
The Week 22 ratings have been in discussion ever since, because it was released by BARC without filtering out the outliers.
While broadcasters have always indulged in investing in landing pages, it was only after the May 31 judgment of the TDSAT that BARC started counting landing page viewership in calculating ratings. Broadcasters who saw their ratings go down slammed the move while those who went up the scale called the earlier method of rationalising ratings on account of assumed landing page deals unethical. As per the earlier method of rationalisation, any abnormal reach was considered an outlier and was rationalised and moderated by BARC assuming it came from landing pages.
Commenting on the inclusion of landing page viewership in ratings, MK Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network, had said, “We believe that landing pages are a bona fide marketing mechanism.”
“It’s a transparent commercial option available to everyone. It improves visibility of the channel and improves offtake, just like Bisleri or Colgate in a shop. FMCG companies bid for the best shelf space in shops and supermarkets. It costs money. Similarly, products advertise on prime media such as large newspapers, GECs, news channels and sports channels comes at a high cost. Obviously, only serious players pay and stay in the competition. Calling this ‘unethical’ is like calling advertising on TOI front page or in IPL unethical,” Anand had mentioned.
On the other hand, Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, too believes that investing in landing pages is a marketing activity taken up by broadcasters but feels that it promotes forced viewing and thus shouldn’t be a part of BARC’s calculation of ratings.
“This is a direct assault on the freedom of press. There are media companies whose pockets are deep and there are some whose parent companies also run cable companies. It is unfair that they get to control what people watch. Investing in landing pages is a marketing activity that media companies can take up. But then, BARC shouldn’t consider numbers of landing pages for defining ratings. This move will not just hurt broadcasters but the overall industry in the long run,” Pandey said.
ABP group has also launched a campaign called ‘Rating Mein Setting Nahi’ to reinforce their support to “fair” ratings.
Finally, putting an end to all the debate around landing page viewership and the confusion around it, BARC on June 13 decided to neutralize outliers and stick to its initial data calculation method to establish a week’s ratings. Along with the Week 23 data released on June 13, BARC also released a statement saying, "As per representations received from various stakeholders and as per our board mandate, we are in the interim reverting back to our earlier process for treatment of landing page. The same will be reflective from Week 23 onwards till further notice. The process is also under review by board. BARC India cannot identify landing pages. It has been identifying reach outliers. This practise is followed for all channels but the impact is more pronounced for smaller viewership channels like English news, business news and not for genres like Hindi GEC etc.”
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