It is no secret that the fledgling news broadcasting industry is struggling. The problems are everywhere - content quality, ad rates, mounting costs, poor talent, carriage costs, shareholder expectations-increasingly, everything seems to be a problem. All is not lost yet and I would put down these as my SEVEN wishes for this industry to survive and thrive:
Digitisation with addressability of the cable industry: Given the way carriage fees have risen in the last five years, this is probably the most critical wish – this hopefully would lead to some rationalisation of the carriage costs , which otherwise is the biggest impediment to growth.
Investment in people and news gathering: The current levels of investment in people (salaries and training) are poor and do not attract or beget good talent. Investment in hardware would also significantly impact the ‘on-air’ quality and make our channels on par with the best in the world.
Encourage and allow self-regulation to thrive: The news broadcasters had taken the initiative to self-regulate and discipline themselves three years back and the results have started showing. There is now a conscious attempt to drive this further and this needs to be encouraged. The government must make it compulsory for all news channels to follow these guidelines. Maintaining the freedom of our press is a key determinant for the success of our democracy.
Cap on the ad inventory on news channels: There is currently a glut of inventory and this is one of the reasons for poor ad rates for news channels. Cap on the inventory and strict implementation would not only help get better value, but also improve content quality.
Remove controls on channel pricing: Most news channels are currently free-to-air because of the lack of a stable and transparent collection mechanism. The regulated prices do not give any incentive for channels to go pay or try and realise value for its content. This impedes further investment into better quality content. When every other category is deregulated, controlling prices of TV channels does not make sense.
Better advertising rates: Ad rates have to reflect the true worth of the channel and its brand strength. Currently, it’s a buyers’ market and the buyers do not give credence to the investments made by channels on reach and content quality. The price should not be based on CPRP (cost per rating point), but on CPT (cost per thousand) and price should reflect the equity and credibility of the channel.
Increase FDI in news broadcasting to 49 per cent: The current norm of 26 per cent is limiting and comes in the way of fresh investments and more importantly, knowhow and softer skillsets from flowing in. Increasing the limits make it more attractive for committed news players to play a stronger role in building our news industry.
(Ashok Venkatramani, Chief Executive Officer, MCCS.)