The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal’s (TDSAT) quashing of the TRAI’s ruling, that barred channels whose viewership ratings were measured by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India from appearing on the landing page, has led to chaos. The landing page, also known as the barker channel, is a form of digital signage that one sees when the TV set is switched on.
TRAI’s earlier directive was meant to “protect the interest of service providers, consumers and ensure the orderly growth of the sector”. But now, it’s a free-for-all.
Broadcasters had reportedly penned a grievance letter to BARC India requesting it to “reconsider and reinstate the appropriate moderation policies”. Simply put, they requested the measurement body to avoid mapping impressions on the landing page, so that broadcasters do not get an unfair advantage by paying to air content on it.
In response, giving temporary respite to broadcasters, BARC India has issued a statement clarifying that it will not measure viewership on the landing page currently, which is in continuation of what it has been doing thus far. But this is only for the interim period, before its Board of Directors decides on the way ahead. “As per the representations received from various stakeholders and BARC’s board mandate, BARC India is in the interim reverting to its earlier process for the treatment of landing page. The same will be reflective from week 23 onwards till further notice. The process is also under review by the board,” says a BARC India spokesperson.
Loosely translated, this means that the status quo — that of not measuring landing page viewership — could change if BARC India decides otherwise. The fate of broadcasters, therefore, hangs by a thread. Placing a channel on the landing page is akin to buying placement on a prime band prevalent during the analog era. If measurement of this page becomes a reality, it could lead to a manipulation in viewership ratings. Broadcasters are further concerned about the arbitrary manner in which distribution platform operators (DPOs) can now choose and place a channel on the landing page.
The landing page is an important marketing tool for broadcasters and distributors for promotions of their programmes. According to those in the know, deals between DPOs and broadcasters for a landing page could cost between Rs 1 crore and Rs 20 crore depending on the subscriber base of the distributor and the duration for which the deal will be struck.
The way out
Meanwhile, DPOs have welcomed the order. Rajesh Sethi, chief business transformation officer, SITI Networks, a cable company, says, “It is time to give freedom to the stakeholders as there is enough transparency in the market post digitisation. The landing page offers broadcasters an additional opportunity to communicate with the consumer, and it gives delivery platforms new monetisation opportunities.”
According to media experts, the TDSAT judgment has thrown things out of gear, for if BARC India eventually decides to measure the landing page, it is a green light for broadcasters to pay their way into obtaining viewership. This is as opposed to earning it organically, by wowing the audience with quality content that they would want to watch. In others words, this is a push mechanism rather than a pull one — something that even the end viewer may not take kindly to, and isn’t ideal in an open economy.
Therefore, experts believe this to be a regressive directive, one that lets platform owners rake in the moolah incorrectly. “We were trying hard as an industry to overcome the problem of carriage fees; but now we are back in a situation where there are bloodbaths over prime real estate on TV. Tragically, this is not a strategic advantage; it is a tactical, sampling-oriented advantage at best,” says Paritosh Joshi, principal, Provocateur Advisory.―Financial Express