Media owners sure love to spring surprises and one came the way on Saturday, December 17, when Global Broadcast News (GBN) announced the official launch of its 24-hour general English news channel CNN-IBN. What is interesting here is the zero hype and complete lack of fanfare around the launch.
It came almost like a sudden, rushed, early morning operation with a two-paragraph press note sent to mailboxes of key media persons. So rushed that neither the MD of TV18, nor its CEO or Editor Rajdeep Sardesai could provide a sound byte by way of a quote in the release.
However, many missed the launch simply because the channel didn’t do as much as even a half-page launch ad or even a radio ad for its launch, no teaser campaigns, no OOH. Considering that CNN-IBN faces a two-pronged challenge of not just creating awareness around the channel but also letting the viewer know that it is distinct from CNN, does this silent launch make sense?
To give a background, GBN’s channel, formerly known as India Broadcast News (IBN), which is a JV between Raghav Bahl promoted TV18 and Rajdeep Sardesai and Samir Manchanda, both formerly of NDTV, made a decision to foray into the English general news genre in the same time window as The Times Group’ venture ‘Times Now’.
Times announced an ace in its pack by partnering with Reuters. Not to be left behind, IBN hurled its own ace when it roped in CNN as a partner, which led to the co-branding ‘CNN-IBN’, and will bring benefits to the channel in terms of CNN’s content expertise.
Even though no official comment about launch dates was forthcoming from either Times Now or CNN-IBN, the industry buzz until December 16, 2005, was that both channels were gearing up for launch right at the beginning of the New Year. Happily for a few at least, CNN-IBN has jumped the “expected” deadline and hit the tube a fortnight before year-end.
So, how did the media fraternity view this silent launch?
“It sure is better than going overboard,” remarked Sandip Tarkas, CEO, Media Direction. “It is wiser for the product to be available when a consumer is told about it and they might be holding on marketing exercises until that front is worked out. But there should have had been some communication at least. I don’t know how many will even know the channel is on air.”
This point of view was validated when the likes of Shashi Sinha, President, Lodestar Media, and Raj Gupta, President, Insight, were asked about the channel’s launch.
Like most, Sinha wasn’t aware the channel was on-air. However, his opinion on the zero hype echoed that of Tarkas. “In the news genre, nuances like distribution are far more crucial than it is in any other genre and they might be trying to put things in order on that front before they go to the market with the channel,” he remarked.
Nonetheless, Sinha stated that some activity should have accompanied the launch. Raj Gupta summed up his opinion in one statement, “A news channel launching with no news just doesn’t look like a launch, so I don’t think this is a real launch!”
Many would be inclined to agree with him, since the channel isn’t ready on most fronts – be it glitch-free content, distribution or consumer awareness. On all these counts, CNN-IBN would look like a channel that is more in the test-signal mode than ‘officially launched’ mode. So, the question really is why did the channel launch in such a hurry?
According to media experts, it couldn’t have been an overriding desire to beat Times Now to its launch, as the genre already has other players. And, being No. 4 wouldn’t be much different from being a No. 3. Speaking more on this, Sinha said, “All said and done, Times will still generate a multiplier effect with the ToI and other products from the group’s stable and network. In any case, these are things that matter in the short run. On the longer term, it is content and even distribution that matter.”
Tarkas agreed with Sinha. Given that the television industry has examples like STAR Plus beating the likes of DD and Zee TV year-on-year, many others would agree too. As for CNN-IBN, it would be interesting to see when its officials are ready to divulge the strategy or reason that prompted this ‘silent’ launch. Or, will they announce a fresh, formal launch date once again a few days down the line?