TV channels’ use of ‘landing page’ an unfair advantage, feel experts

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on February 04, 2021

It can definitely exaggerate viewership and probably in a legal way

Television channels’ use of the landing page — wherein a particular channel shows up when you turn on the television — can exaggerate TV viewership estimates and give the said channel an unfair advantage in terms of viewership, according to experts.

The issue of the landing page was in the spotlight recently, in the wake of the exposé of the scam to rig television rating points (TRPs) for manipulation of advertising, with conflicting opinions emerging on how fair it would be to use the landing page.

“The use of the landing page can definitely exaggerate viewership and probably, in a legal way. It definitely gives an unfair advantage to the channel on the landing page as it’s the default option and consumers have to opt-out to move to the other channel. Since users have been proven to be prone to inertia, that is, they like to stay in one state (it definitely varies on the basis of age, occupation, etc) — it still holds true in this case,” Anuj Kapoor, Assistant Professor of Marketing at IIM-Ahmedabad, told BusinessLine.

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Strong yes, weak no

The way viewership is measured, landing on a channel becomes ‘viewed’ if the channel is not changed in a stipulated time, says Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle, an ad agency. “How do you factor in the chance that as a viewer I may never ‘land’ on a channel, and thereby the channel may get no viewership? When the viewership data turns into revenue for the channel, you know that the whole measurement-advertising system has been gamed,” he states.

Renuka Kamath, Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean at SPJIMR, Mumbai, says that her answer on the usage of the landing page being unfair would be a ‘strong yes’ and a ‘weak no’. “Yes, because if it is counted in the views by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), then naturally it is an unfair advantage that the channel gets...if it is accounted for in viewership, then it is unfair. It is a ‘no’ because I feel viewers are smart and intelligent. No one keeps to a channel if it doesn’t appeal. Let’s not insult the intelligence of the India TV viewer. TV remotes will quickly be used to alternate between their favourite channel(s).”

In a statement on September 3, BARC said that it is introducing algorithms into its data validation method to mitigate the impact of landing page on viewership data across all genres of channels. “Basis the study undertaken by BARC India, its Oversight Committee and its Technical Committee, it was concluded that use of a landing page by a channel exaggerates viewership estimates by ‘forcing viewership’.”

Legitimate option

From a legal standpoint, the usage of the landing page by TV channels will pass the test, say experts. “All channels try and motivate the multi-system operators (MSOs) to put their channel on the landing page to get a small blip in their rating. This is in a sense above board. BARC or even TAM could monitor this and can write algorithms to eliminate this,” points out Ambi Parameswaran, former chief executive officer of FCB-Ulka Advertising.

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“The use of the landing page absolutely exaggerates the viewership estimates but then it is a legitimate option available to the channels. It has been used extensively and why not? We can’t put on a different moral compass on the way channels advertise and where they advertise to hike their awareness and reach,” argues Giraj Sharma, founder-director of Behind the Moon, a brand consultancy.

The use of the landing page is legal in other countries, too. But the system followed is different elsewhere, reminds Gupta. For instance, when you land on Amazon Prime Video’s page, it’s a composite page, similar to Hulu’s page, which would also be a composite page of channels and shows. “But when it’s a cable operator whose channel you land on, it can be used by the channel to drive measurement. Even in India, BARC has regularly said that they are building algorithms that will mitigate the impact of the landing page on viewership date. However, till they suspended the measurement, the landing page was a regular practice.”

Some solutions

Legality and unfairness are different angles too, cautions Kapoor. “Though an option can be legal, it still might give an undue advantage or can be biased against few stakeholders. For example, firms/channels are likely to ‘bid’ for the landing page, and therefore, firms/companies with deep pockets are at an advantage over cash-strapped or lesser-known firms/channels as they can’t bid enough to qualify as a landing or default option.”

Rather than showing a single channel on the landing page, the pattern/format can be changed wherein only channel names and thumbnails show up — and that provides a bouquet list of relevant channels — rather than focusing on only one channel, Kapoor suggests as one of the few solutions to this. Randomising or using some algorithmic tool to let all the channels show up on the landing page so that no channel has an undue advantage, can also be used, he said.

Once channel owners know that the landing page will not impact measurement, the practice will also stop, reminds Gupta.

“The best way forward with this is that BARC should drop it from accounting it in the viewership,” said Kamath. Besides, it’s the issue of the TRP rigging — which BARC and the broadcasting sector have been mired in — that needs immediate focus and resolution now, she reminds.

Published on February 04, 2021

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