Safedi ki chamkar, where Rin and Tide are slugging it out, isn't the only battle zone these days. There is another joust in the media firmament, where an ongoing glove fest has everyone riveted. And this has nothing to do with iski shirt meri shirt se zyada safed kyun hai? This one is about bruising egos and vaulting ambition. It is about an entrenched player and a newbie. More than that, it is all about a new line entering contemporary lexicon. The line - apni aukat nahi bhoolni chaiye - which is way beyond white shirts and detergent bars. It is about ratings, and the line is reverberating in the corridors of most media entities over the last couple of days, thanks to the Internet.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg UTV filed a defamation notice against Udayan Mukherjee, Managing Editor of rival business channel CNBC-TV18 for inflamatory, derogatory and defamatory statements made during the course of a morning programme. The UTV legalese also sought Rs 500 crore in damages if an unconditional apology was not forthcoming within 48 hours. Their contention that Mukherjee during ‘Bazaar’ had mouthed “false statements communicating to the public that Bloomberg UTV is copying, cheating and lying about its viewership ratings on the day of the announcement of the Union Budget 2010".
White shirts be damned, it was Code Red in telly studios. The ratings war has seen its first big battle unfold in recent times. There is some serious strife in business telly land. And how? Udayan Mukherjee dashed off this missive to his staff in the heat and dust of Bloomberg UTV's claims of being number one:
“The TAM ratings for Budget Day came out this morning. I stress this point as you may have seen some utterly false and misleading ads in the ET over the last couple of days from Bloomberg UTV claiming that they are the “new No 1”. They were going by aMap, which is a small sample based study, in most cases inaccurate, which provides a very rough preview into what the TAM numbers could “possibly” resemble. The same set which had Times Now excited after last year’s Budget, till they got kicked in the teeth with the final TAM numbers.
I must also add here that UTV made a devious distribution switch on the Budget Day, replacing UTV Movies with Bloomberg. Of course, all movie channels have higher ratings (they are more mass) than news channels and that would have led to much higher sampling of Bloomberg on the day of the Budget, leading to a spike in their ratings: of course, compared only to their generally abysmal ratings. Despite that, they are nowhere near CNBC-TV18 in the final ratings and will firmly go back to their consistent No 4 (among 4 players) position next week.
Now the ratings. CNBC-TV18 is, expectedly, the No 1 on Budget Day for the 10th year running, ahead of all business news and English general news channels and by a mile. Sure, the extent of our leadership or the gap would have been even higher had it not been for these distribution games, but that takes nothing away from our dominance on Budget Day. We are still 3 times the No 2 player (ET Now) in our core TG. Am sure all of you understand by now that the TAM ratings are just an indicative reflection of our dominance, as it does not capture our presence in offices/ brokerages and general out of home or affluent households, where we enjoy a virtual monopoly. But even in that crude measure, we have always been and continue to be the leader by far.
I hope this will dispel any self doubts you may have had after reading those ads. Actually, none of you should have had them in the first place. The fine effort that all of you put out on Budget Day and one look at the comparable screens should have amply convinced you that we were the best, by far. Now you have factual endorsement of that. Congratulations to all of you and just stay focused on the No 1 channel, yours. The rest is noise, and mostly empty at that. There’s a phrase in the English vocabulary for it: Comeuppance.
This was in response to the Bloomberg UTV advertisement, but the channel's Managing Editor, Govindraj Ethiraj, incidentally a former CNBC-TV18 staffer, had this to say about Uadyan's letter to his staff. Ethiraj's missive titled – ‘What fun!’ – went like this:
An interesting ratings battle has broken out… as you can see and was only expected… a few things to bear in mind...
1. We don't own aMap, any channel would have done what we did if aMap ratings were favourable to them. As it happened this time, Times Now and us took the lead.
The same networks, who are clutching on to TAM for dear life, frequently use aMap when it suits them, in ads too.
2. That is not the issue though. The issue is that the 'undisputed' leader is not undisputed any more... if that was the case, you can't have a vote that was so divisive... one sample likes us totally, another someone else, and we are okay with that, for now!
3. Fact is, we have put the market on alert and told them that we are in clear contention for number one sustained position and not the occasional double century or whatever, as we discussed the other day... and we continue to remain focussed on that goal...
And it’s fun to rattle and make your competition sweat so much as was evident today and will be in coming days !!!!
Most importantly, the Bombay party is Friday night at Sobo Central, 7.30 pm onwards, details already with you... see you there!
PS: Do circulate to whoever missed out"
Wow, this reminded me of Zee TV’s gauche attempt many years back to strike at the very heart of the TAM Peoplemeter model when Star Plus had began its ascendancy. Many investigations later, nothing substantive came out of it and life and business went on as usual. It tells you something about the competitive times that we live in that one has to resort to such gimmickry to stay ahead of the eight ball. I guess, for both Bloomberg and CNBC-TV18, it is imperative perceptually to be seen as number one. From virtual dominance over the years, CNBC-TV18 now finally has some competition. With newbie ET Now also adopting a buy, hold and sell plank, this competition will only get murkier.
I choose not to be judgmental in this affair, for it has exposed the warts that exist in this business. What we first saw in the cutthroat GEC sweepstakes and then in the news telly media, has now spilled over to biz television. The sabre rattling over 'safedi' is the latest in the competitive advertising counter-punching offensive and has already landed in court. The ratings war that has erupted on biz telly is also headed in the same direction, for both entities would like to stay ahead of the curve. Bloomberg UTV believes that it has been wronged and the tone and tenor of the legalese is based on that edifice, so what happens if an apology is not forthcoming? Bloomberg UTV claims that its name has been sullied and its brand name and reputation tarnished by Mukherjee's off the cuff remarks. It remains to be seen whether it will take this matter to its logical culmination?
Meanwhile, wait for the next salvo to be fired in this gripping tale. Not about safedi ki chamak, but ratings ki chanak.
(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.
The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)