As viewership data for the TV news genre is set to be released from March 17, marking the return of TRP to the industry, the all-important question of how viewership coming from the landing pages should be treated remains unanswered.
What has added to the confusion among stakeholders is a letter from the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) questioning BARC India’s silence on systems that have to be put in place to correct the impact of landing pages, viewed to be a major concern for the industry. Mr. Arnab Goswami, managing director, and editor-in-chief, Republic Media Network, is also the founding president of the NBF.
A landing page is the one that allows channels to be the first one on which the viewer forcibly lands upon switching on the set-top box. In the absence of clarity on how landing pages will be treated, the landing page is seen to artificially inflate the TRPs of a TV channel present on it.
While Average Time Spent (ATS) on a channel comes from good content and its reach, a sudden increase in any one of these is treated as an outlier by the system. High ATS could mean panel home tampering, while a sudden increase in reach could be an indication of a landing page or multiple placements of a channel since it is possible that some DPOs and MSOs could lock the timing to force watch a landing page to a certain amount of time made possible through settings in the backend.
Members of the industry argue that landing pages of news channels of NBF are like a forced choice on households and thus it becomes a case of U Turn when NBF itself asks for clarification. The spiking up due to toxicity of content or reach outliers have been at the crux of news channel blind TRP chase and ratings distortion.
The I&B Ministry had on September 5, 2017, asked BARC India to stop ratings of TV channels using a landing page. Following this, TRAI directed all the broadcasters and distributors of television channels to restrain from placing any registered satellite television channel whose TV rating was measured by BARC India on the landing LCN or landing channel or boot up screen. However, in May 2019 the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) set this aside allowing the use of landing pages to continue.
Opinion of Veteran Journalists
Senior Journalist Ambikanand Sahay, former editor of Times of India and also the former Editor-in-Chief of Sahara Television News Network told www.indianpsu.com “TRP rating system in India has, as we all know, been a controversial affair with some of the high and mighty media honchos taking advantage of the loopholes. NBF’s latest letter on Landing doesn’t seem to clear the air: In fact, it adds fuel to the existing controversy. The Average Time Spent is much more important than what you measure things through the Landing Page. But this is my personal opinion. Followers of the new system are free to disagree!”
It was in October, 2020, when an open war broke out within the media, especially the Television News space. It was a high decibel battle between Republic TV versus all others including India Today Group, NDTV, Times Now, Network 18 Group, Zee Group and all others had had pointed out the misuse of landing pages by Mr. Arnab Goswami and his channel. So ugly did it turn out to be that words like “TRP Chor” were perhaps used for the first time on Indian Media. And with the return of this ghost, perhaps we could brace for another war of words on National News Channels in the near future.