TRAI restrains broadcasters, DPOs from placing channels on landing page

MUMBAI: After settling the debate on the use of dual Logical Channel Numbers (LCNs), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has now intervened in the landing page controversy.

Taking a strong view, the regulator has directed broadcasters and distribution platform operators (DPOs) to restrain from placing TV channels on the landing page in order to jack up viewership.

The authority said that the direction has been issued in order to protect the interest of service providers and consumers and ensure orderly growth of the sector.

The direction is applicable to all registered satellite television channels whose TV rating is released by the official viewership measurement agency Broadcasters Audience Research Council (BARC) India.

Broadcasters and DPOs cannot place any registered satellite television channel on the landing LCN or landing channel or boot up screen within fifteen days from the date of issuance of this direction, the regulator said.

The TRAI direction comes as a consequence of the representations it has received from stakeholders who have complained that the use of landing page has the potential to affect the viewership data of that channel, and therefore it is susceptible to influence the television audience measurements/television ratings.

The authority itself has come to the conclusion that the use of landing page may affect the orderly growth of the sector and is against the spirit of the said policy guidelines for TV rating agencies and, therefore the same needs to be curbed.

It listed four key reasons for curbing the practice:

  1. Such practice captures viewership impressions, which are not due to natural choice of consumers, therefore susceptible to show higher television rating to the channel involved in such practice;
  2. Such practice is discriminatory in nature as it puts other broadcasters in disadvantageous position leading to a non-level playing field in the TV broadcasting sector and thus deviate from the basic ethos of interconnection i.e. non-discrimination and level playing field;
  3. Such practice is susceptible to false viewership data which creates market distortions; and
  4. Such practice is anti-consumer as it is against the rights of the consumer to have the accurate information about the viewership of channels which plays a role in choice of TV channels.

The authority also asserted that the issue falls under its jurisdiction as it is linked to interconnectivity between the broadcasters and the DPOs.

It further added that fixing the terms of interconnectivity between the service providers is one of the functions entrusted upon the authority and placing of a channel on landing LCN is the issue relating to interconnectivity between broadcaster and distributor of the television channel, therefore there is a need for intervention of the authority in the matter.

In industry parlance, the landing channel or the landing page refers to the LCN which is displayed first when the set top box (STB) is switched on.

The landing page is, normally, used by the distributor of television channels for providing information to consumers and promotion of its distribution platforms.

The landing page is being used by broadcasters to increase the sampling of their channels. It has been a tried and tested formula of increasing viewership.

Both landing page and dual frequencies are an additional source of income for DPOs particularly MSOs who have more channel carrying capacity than the direct to home (DTH) operators.

The landing page has been used by different channels at different times to rack up ratings. CNBC TV18 used the landing page during 2017 union budget while Times Now did the same during 2017 state assembly election results.

In May, the authority had issued a direction to all multi system operators (MSOs) not to place a single channel on two frequencies. The direction was issued following complains by news broadcasters that Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV is using dual frequencies to ratchet up its viewership numbers.

Terming the placing of TV channels on multiple LCNs by MSOs as ‘material non-compliance’, the TRAI had advised all MSOs to comply with regulations.

The authority had further stated that the regulation mandates MSOs to place a channel in the genre declared by the broadcaster of that channel. The MSO is required to ensure that all the channels falling in a particular genre appear in its network’s EPG under that genre.

BARC India, on its part, has maintained that the viewership of channels is measured based on watermark ID and the viewership of channels having the same watermark on more than one LCN gets aggregated and reported as a single channel and not multiple channels.

Earlier, it had distanced itself from the cockfight between News Broadcasters Association (NBA) affiliated English news channels, on one side, and Republic TV, on the other side, stating that the industry should sort out the issue among itself.