The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry, headed by Smriti Irani, has reportedly asked ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) to stop generating ratings of TV channels that use ‘landing pages’ to gain viewership.
According to the report on Best Media Info, the I&B Ministry has termed the use of landing channels a “violation of TRAI regulations.”
The decision is key to the eyeball-grabbing contest between Times Now and Republic.
In June this year, Republic’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami had alleged that Times Now’s rising viewership was due to the “forced reach” method employed by the channel. He claimed Times Now was tying up with cable networks to be the landing page on those networks.
The landing page refers to the channel that appears on screen the moment you switch on your television.
In a statement to The Quint, Goswami had claimed:
Times Now’s landing across networks in megacities and the impact thereof is forced reach, as the BARC metres at seven seconds of view and this is resulting in the reach. This reach is not organic.
Times Now had responded strongly to the charges levelled against the channel.
It’s amusing to see Arnab come up with technical points in defence of losing his propped-up position. Complaining against superior and costlier distribution surely is not the best way to compete.Times Now, in a statement to The Quint
“The so-called ‘forced reach’ that Goswami is accusing Times Now of, is simply a better frequency on the electronic programme guide that money can buy. If Republic TV is incapable of spending that or wants to save that money, that’s really a profit and loss call,” it said.
In June, Times Now had defended their use of the landing page method to increase viewership.
Three months on, the I&B Ministry’s directive asking BARC to stop rating channels that use landing pages seems to leave Goswami with the privilege of having the last laugh.
A Tight Race at the Top
Republic and Times Now have been neck-and-neck in the race for the number one spot among English news channels. As per the latest BARC data, Republic stands at 899 rating points with Times Now right on their heels at 868.
If the new I&B Ministry directive were to take landing pages out of the equation, how would that affect the TV channels’ fight for top spot?
Are Landing Pages a Fair Distribution Tactic?
“Using landing pages is similar to channels adopting dual frequencies. If you’re cracking down on one method, ensure that you’re cracking down effectively on the other as well”, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, media analyst and author of The Indian Media Business, told The Quint.
“Look, tying up with cable networks for landing page agreements is a distribution strategy. The method may be expensive, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, right? Similarly, different channels use the dual frequency route as a distribution tactic. If a company wants to splurge on its distribution, they can. If a brand can pay to have its goods displayed on two racks in a shop instead of one, why is that wrong?” she argued.
However, these tactics directly affect a channel’s viewership numbers, which in turn influence the advertising rates the channel commands.
And critics of the dual frequency and landing page distribution methods argue that the boost in viewership that channels receive from these measures is an unfair benefit, especially since it can favourably impact their advertising revenues as well.
Landing page or no landing page, if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that you haven’t seen the last of the battle between Arnab Goswami’s former and current channel yet.
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