William Shakespeare had once asked, “What’s in a name?” While the question might have been a rhetorical one, a lot rides on a name when it comes to television channels. The race for TRPs, creating differentiated content, gaining maximum eyeballs, and creating brand loyalty – it depends on which channel remains top of mind of the viewer when he reaches for the remote.
General entertainment channels have been able to create a dedicated band of viewers thanks to soaps and serials, creating a continuity that draws repeated viewing. However, when it comes to news channels, there is no such loyal viewership base. In the case of news channels, more often than not it is the credibility of news represented through the content and the news anchors and editors that matters more than the channel’s name.
For instance, Star News, which was rechristened ABP News some time back, has continued with its content and the same set of news anchors without losing much of its identity.
With the onset of digitisation, people now have more choice vis-à-vis 15-20 years back when there was just one source of news on television. Hence, it has become imperative to have a strong brand that people want to watch.
‘The brand is the journalist and the content’
When asked whether channel name matters to viewers, Surbhi C Murthy, VP, Allied Media remarked, “It’s a question which needs a lot of thinking. We have to classify news channels across all genres and languages, and then classify them into certain categories. Many channels have been around for a long time and have on board journalists who have become frontrunners of the industry and have created a strong brand association.”
On whether news channels have moved to a point where people watched the brand, Murthy replied, “Brand, yes, but the brand is not the brand name of the channel. For example, Times Now is a brand, but Arnab Goswami is the brand name and he is responsible for building up this association; similarly, Rajdeep Sardesai is the brand name for CNN-IBN and Dr Prannoy Roy for NDTV. The brand is the journalist and the content.”
Murthy further said that news channels do have distinct identities, and that identity is their content, what they are talking about, their opinions and their representatives. “An honest approach towards work is also the identity of the news channel,” she added.
There is a difference between how a consumer perceives a news channel and how a media planner looks it, Murthy explained. According to her, “A media planner looks at data mostly as a number, whereas it should be looked as content per se. Changing the brand name doesn’t make much difference, while change in faces and content will hamper for sure.”
‘There is substantial appointment viewing of news channels in India’
Taking a different stance here, Janardhan Pandey, Associate Vice President, DDB MudraMax said that perception and evaluation of content and formats are the task of viewers. “For media planners, it is reach, numbers and quality of audiences and not the content, unless the idea is to do some content integration. It’s a simple golden rule that a channel needs to deliver well within required TG at the cost appropriate and be affordable to be prominent in the media plan, leaving less scope for human evaluation beyond numbers, unless the channel is niche or the communication is niche or both.”
He too felt that brand name doesn’t matter till the time the news channel has built its imagery, perception and alignment while treating various news developments, stories and documentaries. “Once the ground is made, then there is always a committed size of audience watching a particular news channel for maximum duration and also verifying the news from the preferred channel. These are loyal audiences who trust and agree with the content aired on the channel and vouch for the same. Apart from following the channel content line, the audience also keenly follows editors and reporters for their daily dose of news,” he observed.
Pandey further said that while there was a floating audience too that watched a channel, every individual develops a liking or inclination towards a single or couple of news channels and those become his fixed source of news from the long laundry list.
According to him, there is substantial appointment viewing of news channels in India, which is also partly due to the channels themselves discovering and rediscovering, aligning and re-aligning their reporting formats with varying degrees of aggressiveness and depth in detailing. Echoing Murthy’s views, Pandey added that news anchors and editors have become the face of the channels, standing for the brand and its virtues. “Fierce competition is also making news channels’ content dynamic, which has unsettled the flow of audience,” he remarked.
‘It is somewhat to do with habit and familiarity’
Meanwhile, supporting both the content and the anchor, Himanka Das, Senior Vice President, West, Carat Media opined, “In the news genre, viewers watch content that is informative. They look for a point of view from the anchor regarding the topic of news or the discussion. As long as viewers find the anchor to have a sensible point of view, there is no reason why people should not stick to the channel.”
As in the case of Allied Media’s Murthy and DDB MudraMax’s Pandey, Das too said that viewers become familiar with key anchors on a channel. Case in point is anchors such as Pranoy Roy, Barkha Dutt, Vikram Chandra, who have become synonymous with NDTV 24x7. Similarly, Vinod Dua is identified with NDTV India, Arnab Goswami is identified with Times Now, Rajdeep Sardesai is identified with CNN-IBN and Rajat Sharma is identified with India TV. Each of these personalities has their own way of conducting news with their own panaché which defines their identity.
“Also, it is somewhat to do with habit and familiarity,” Das said, adding, “Not that these established anchors move often; having said that, there is no distinct analogy that we can infer that change in news anchor to a different news channel may bring in a shift of viewers.”
Das also felt that there is a unified metric for media planners to manage investments, which is evaluated objectively from Television Audience Measurement (TAM) and that perception cannot be a basis for evaluation.
‘Viewers have a fixed marquee of channels’
Mausumi Kar, General Manager, Maxus Global is completely inclined towards anchors. She remarked, “Unlike newspapers, which sell basis lineage and credibility, news channels sell by the brand names of their anchors. So viewers are more likely to tune in to watch an Arnab Goswami or a Barkha Dutt rather than the respective news channel per se. Over time, news anchors establish a reputation which goes beyond the channels. So that when they move to a new channel, that channel rides on his/her popularity.”
She further said, “When a news channel is launched, the spiel is that a certain established news anchor has joined their stable. When an important property is being touted, for example, Elections or Budget, the driver for viewership is the anchors. To address the ‘name’ question, viewers have a fixed marquee of channels within which they flip for updates, because the feeling is that there is parity in news reportage except when it comes of special sections run by the reputed anchors.”