The afternoon session on the first day of the FICCI-Frames 2007 saw the heads of four major news channels coming together to discuss on ‘The Changing Face of News’. Moderated by Pankaj Pachouli of NDTV, the session had Sunil Lulla of Times Now, G Krishnan from Aaj Tak, BBC Delhi editorial head Sanjeev Shrivastav, and Italian Embassy’s documentary films division president Alessandro Signetto presenting their views.
Explaining the advantages of news channels, Sunil Lulla of Times Now said they were always there with the news as it broke. Cricket was something that was broken practically always as a first one on news channels. “The reason why this topic was chosen is because news is still changing and will continue to change,” he said.
Lulla went on to add that “I think news is an under-valued business, because as something that is so information-based, it fuels the decisions of the common man and also fuels various social issues. Celebrities and brands chose television while making any announcement, and given this, I think that it is still under-valued.”
Coming to the challenges, Lulla said the medium had many challenges in terms of serving different forms of content and to different audiences as well. “We already have 47 news channels today and I think there is space for more because eventually there will be segmentation and different kinds of programming. I think what we need to think about is talent, news systems, and delivery more than anything else,” he added.
Aaj Tak chief executive G Krishnan said there were various challenges that they had to face when they decided to launch Aaj Tak and Headlines Today. “A lot of people were skeptical about how a 24-hour channel would work, and what value a third channel would add in the existing scenario,” he said.
Describing news channels as active newspapers, Krishnan said there was the advantage of breaking news at each moment. “Television has tickers, scores, polls, timelines, datelines, questions and breaking news, all in one screen and the viewer doesn't need to turn any pages,” he pointed out.
Commenting that there was a three-fold jump in revenue growth, he said while as much as 12 percent of the overall advertising spend went to news channels, the viewership share of news channels was only seven percent. “With so many channels, I think it is necessary to have some amount of differentiation. Each channel needs to have a different form and art of story telling, have a different look and feel and use different technology. I think it’s important that we do not merely clone each other,” he said.
Krishnan also spoke about the coverage of the rescue of the four-year old boy Prince from the well in Haryana. “The Prince issue was criticized for dramatising an agony, but television has the opportunity to shoot something like that on a minute-to-minute basis.”
BBC Delhi editorial head Sanjeev Shrivastav said the most fundamental change was that the news listener/reader had become a consumer today. “We have got into a lot of infotainment and spicy material, and somewhere along the lines there is a problem because in the mix of entertainment and news we are getting more entertainment than news,” he said.
Shrivastav also observed that a positive change in the news industry was in terms of the listener-friendly content. “During earlier days, when I had just started out in the print media, a non-political story would never make it to the front page. Now things have changed and people are addressing issues that are for the reader or listener. But somewhere along the line, no one yet talks about the reader who is not a consumer, and I think this is a concern in terms of our responsibility in the media,” he said.
Italian Embassy’s documentary films division president Alessandro Signetto brought out the concerns and the issue of the lack of versatility of news in his country. “The only source of news for Vatican City is currently satellite television. The local news programmes that we do have do not reflect the sound of that country, and that leaves us to depend only on one source of information. This is undemocratic, because viewers have hardly any choice left,” he lamented.