Though Raghav Bahl, Managing Director, Network18 Group, couldn’t make it personally to the NewsNext 2009 conference, he put forth his views on the news broadcasting industry in his special address via an AV clip. Bahl spoke about the economic slowdown and how the industry has been coping with it, and now with things slowly looking up, what was the way ahead for the industry.
Said Bahl, “The English news channels had a great leg up during the elections, so that quarter we saw a huge improvement in the English news channels. Prior to that, the business news channels had seen a very bad period between October 2008 and March 2009, and the reasons for that is very clear – financial service advertising completely disappeared, real estate advertising disappeared, a lot of corporate advertising was put on hold because companies were cutting costs, and so this six-month period was extremely bad.”
“On the other hand, Hindi news channels, I would argue, lost very little, maybe in single digits in that October-March period. Right after that in April, May and June we had elections and the general English news channels bounced back. Business news channels also began to look up as some advertisers returned,” he added.
Bahl further said, “We are now in the July-August-September quarter, where we are seeing a comeback of business news channels, because a lot of the categories that had disappeared are now coming back as advertisers.”
He added, “Crisis is a double-edged sword because your revenues are in trouble, but your costs cannot be in trouble if you want to maintain market leadership. A lot of market leaders toppled during this period because they started cutting the core thing that is the reason for their existence. So it’s a very tough period. You have these two diametrically opposite pressures on you. Also, the fact that if a crisis means news coverage depth and scope and width. But we did not cut any costs during that period because we believed those crises are temporary and for a few months we had to simply last out.”
Speaking on the high carriage fees, Bahl said, “Carriage fees are high just because there is such a fragmentation of the number of players in the space. That clearly has to come to an end at a certain stage and consolidation has to happen. We have been seeing bits and pieces of it happen in the past few months. We also believe that capital inflow into this space will not as easy as it has been in the past. The inevitable conclusion is consolidation, which means some of the marginal players will have to re-configure their business plans. However, consolidation by its very nature is a slow process and does not happen overnight, because the costs of dislocation are so high that you can’t take these decisions so quickly.”
On his expectations from the Government, Bahl said, “India is a genuinely free and liberal democracy, which means that the news media has to be free and has to go according to its own code of conduct. Anybody who doesn’t believe in that has got it wrong, it’s as simple as that. If India has to remain a free democracy then the news media has to remain free, which means news media has to regulate itself and nobody can come and tell it what to do.”
Speaking on modifying content to suit GRPs, Bahl said that these were not new things as it was there in the print space and in the film business as well. He, however, added, “Ultimately it has been proven time and again that audiences will go where there is credibility of news. Some tamasha will happen and it will be covered in a tamasha manner. As long as there has existed free media, have been excesses, but those excesses have got a corrective mechanism within, because excess beyond a point cannot attract audiences.”
Watch this space for more coverage on NewsNext 2009 on August 28.