Reforming and repurposing electronic news channels saw some intense debate amongst industry experts. According to Satish Jacob, Editor-in-Chief, P7 News, changes in content and the way of saying things was very important to redefine news. “A news channel is the best medium to consolidate democracy,” he remarked, but at the same time added that distribution remained a major challenge.
Sudhir Chowdhry, CEO, Live India, noted that when cable television first came to India, there was apprehension that no one would pay to watch TV since everyone was used to watching television for free through Doordarshan, but these apprehensions were proved wrong. He further remarked, “Earlier, content was king, but now distribution is the king, if we want to change the television industry, we have to wake up and take up the challenge.”
Ashutosh, Editor-in-Chief, IBN7, stressed, “Cable operators’ image needs fundamental restructuring, otherwise channels will wind up. A channel’s main ingredient is content and news gathering takes a lot of effort. However, 50 per cent of our revenues are taken up by distribution, so this needs to change. The second point is that prioritisation of content is needed, plus commercial should not dominate. For instance, in a half-hour news capsule, 16 minutes are devoted to commercials, thus there is nothing left for content.”
He further said, “We need to rethink whether we really need a rating system. There are many news channels today and a few sets of People Meter boxes can’t decide the worth of news channels. We are here in the society to telecast news and make people aware, and not to be compared.”
“The partiality between English news channel and Hindi news channel should be abolished. There is a small section of people who watch English news channel, but there are millions of people who watch Hindi news channels, yet the advertisement rate of Hindi news channels is one-third of the English news channels,” Ashutosh lamented.
Ajit Anjum, Managing Editor, News24, noted that the main problem of cable channels was that the cable people were taken for granted by the viewers, who often did not pay the cable rent on time. “But they will shell out more money if some DTH company will offer them some ‘Jhingalala’ package,” he remarked.
He added, “When we started our channel, we were sure we won’t show any Raju Srivastava or Rakhi Sawant, but after six months I came to know that MSOs were not very keen to telecast our channel, so finally we came back with Nirmal baba. Content is important, but a good customer connection is also important. We spend Rs 1-2 crore on news gathering, but pay almost Rs 4 crore for distribution. Thus, digitalisation is very much needed.”
The speakers were addressing the SATCAB symposium, held in New Delhi on February 25, 2012.