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Times TV gets into a gunfight with CNBC TV18 on Budget Day claims

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MUMBAI: There’s a gunfight on in Indian news television town. And, the gunslingers are: Times Television Network and TV18’s CNBC TV18.

CNBC TV18 drew its gun first claiming that the channel had created unprecedented highs in viewership on budget day (1 February) cornering almost 86 per cent of English business news channel viewership as against 10 per cent for arch rival ET Now and four per cent by the others. And it made a lot of noise about it online and in print and outdoor media.

Times Television Network has retaliated crying foul and has written letters to the sheriffs of news TV town - that is the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), BARC, the Advertising Agencies Association of India and the Indian Society of Advertisers. (The letters are in the possession of indiantelevision.com).

According to Times Television Network, its ET Now team observed a sudden spike in CNBC TV18’s reach to 2,289,000 as against an average of 289,000 over the previous thirteen weeks. This points to a manipulation of its viewership, states Times TV in a communication with indantelevision.com.

How did CNBC TV18 allegedly achieve this?

ET Now says its fiercest competitor allegedly “resorted to replacing the feeds of its network/bouquet channels with the feed of CNBC TV18, in the networks of MSOs like GTPL, InCable, E-Infra, Kaizen, Digicable, Manthan, Barasat, Meghbela.”

And its communication has a list of cable TV networks detailing the channels that were allegedly replaced in each territory with CNBC TV18.

"This helped it get an unfair advantage over the other competing channels… such an unnatural increase in the rating was not due to the channel’s coverage or the relevance of the day’s programming,” it further alleges in the email to indiantelevision.com. “The rating system of BARC captured the ratings of all the parallel LCNs on various networks and reported the same collectively as ratings for CNBC TV18. This was not just an addition to the regular and normal rating of the existing channel, but also a multiplication of the ratings, causing a sharp and unnatural spike. This fact could be corroborated by comparing the ratings of the regional channels - Colours and ETV, especially in the territories of Delhi, Bengaluru, Maharashtra, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, as these channels saw a drop in their ratings on Budget day.”

Times Television Network has urged the associations “to investigate and take action against TV18 and direct them not to indulge in such practices as it doesn’t only damage the reputation of broadcasters, but also causes disruption among them. Let’s hope this case serves as a precedent against using such unwarranted methods in the industry.”

Indiantelevision.com reached out to the corporate communications team at Network18 and got a point-blank denial on the allegation that it resorted to dirty tricks on Budget Day.

“We are not aware of any such complaint, nor have we received any communication in this regard. CNBC-TV18 has always been at the forefront when it comes to the Union Budget coverage and has been a leader on the Budget day even in the past. Viewers chose to watch our channel because of the content and we believe in investing in our channel to ensure quality is maintained. Any suggestion that we have used unfair means is a false propaganda by competition to justify their dismal performance. We disapprove of anyone spreading rumours about us and accept the viewer’s choice.”

TV viewership monitor BARC acknowledged that it had got a letter from Times Television Network highlighting the alleged CNBC TV 18 Budget Day tactics.

A spokesperson explained that “broadcasters may opt to make their channel (s) available on more than one slot/frequency on a particular distribution platform for a variety of reasons: such decisions are entirely within the domain of the broadcaster and distribution platform (DTH, cable etc). Regulatory issues pertaining to this, if any, would lie within the domain of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and/or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Pre-empting or stopping broadcasters from making efforts to raise visibility of their channels is not within our remit. Our mandate is to measure what people watch and for how long. We strictly follow Government of India guidelines on the matter.”

“By virtue of its mandate, and the technology deployed, BARC India measures viewership of a watermarked channel, irrespective of the platform it is available on, and also the number of instances within that platform. As long as all/multiple feeds carry the same unique watermark, BARC India’s Bar-o-Meters would read all of them as one channel and we would report its ratings as a single channel. In effect, multiple instances of a channel on a single platform is not very dissimilar to its availability across multiple platforms, or distribution modes.”

In the past, networks such as Star India have simulcast cricket on many of its channels. It did the same for its Aamir Khan hosted show Satyamev Jayate which was also aired on Doordarshan and in different languages on its various regional channels as well as on Eenadu TV.

Will Times TV Network take BARC’s response at face value? Or will it go further and seek to change the way the latter monitors and reports viewership? Or will it continue its fight by going to TRAI and the MIB? Or will the Times TV Network and other broadcast network managements learn from CNBC TV18’s Budget Day tactics and also go for roadblocks on distribution platforms for select events on a channel?

Clearly, the last of the bullets has not been fired in this gun battle.

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