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Guest Column <br>Newsmanic: If only more owners had Subhash Chandra’s guts!

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Guest Column <br>Newsmanic:  If only more owners had Subhash Chandra’s guts!

From the way CEOs and editors keep defending the brain-dead programming on Hindi channels, you would think that the population of morons is galloping in the country. Thankfully, the contrary is true.

Every time we question their stupid content decisions, the channels come out with facts and figures to silence us. They tell us how their cut-and-paste coverage of Rakhi Sawant’s ‘swayamvar’ walloped Manmohan Singh’s second coming in the TRPs. That argument settles it. The viewer is responsible for the puerile news content. We are the perverts, they are our benefactors, who give us our daily fix without which we will wilt and die.

The channels have used this twisted logic to not just absolve themselves of the falling standards of news on TV, but to give an impression that the only way to protect or grow their business in the Hindi news genre is to cater to this growing tribe of perverts. Well then, here’s the breaking news. The perverts are not growing, they are dwindling. Let’s grab this rare chance to throw some figure in their face, for a change:

These are the year-wise market share figures for the news genre. The TV viewership universe consists of various genres such as general entertainment, infotainment, movies, sports, news, etc.

The stats above show that in 2006, the news genre (nine Hindi “national” news channels) had an average share of 7.61 per cent of the overall TV viewership. That is, 7.61 out of every 100 viewers watched news then. The figure rose to 8.03 per cent for 11 channels in 2007, dropped a little to 7.89 per cent in 2008 and dived to a pitiful 5.85 per cent in 2009. From the highest (in 2007) to the lowest (in 2009), it is a sharp fall of 27 per cent. In other words, in the last two years alone, the Hindi news universe has shrunk by more than one-fourth. Any other industry would consider such a steep fall in market share as catastrophic, but not the Hindi news industry. The Hindi industry assumes that there will always be a good number of masochists to help it survive.

If there is one crisis that is facing the Hindi news industry, it is this. Much as the industry tries to paint a picture of the viewer as a willing consumer of pulp, the ground is slipping under its feet. It is clear that the average viewer has had enough of nonsense and is turning off. And yet, I have never heard any CEO or editor talk about this looming danger at any industry meet or interview. Talk of living in denial.

But that’s so typical of the channel-wallahs. They will just shut out the inconvenient truths. They will never tell you that sensible programming also brings in the numbers as often as popcorn journalism and that they do more of the latter just because it is easier and cheaper to cut-paste content from entertainment channels than to create their own.

Let me illustrate this with just the example of one channel, Star News, which has over the last few months tried to correct the balance between sense and nonsense. The pains it took to create some special programmes paid off with ratings way above the channel average, sometimes turning in double or nearly three times that (Star News’ channel TRPs average around 14/15).

Here’s a quick list:
‘Uttradhakari’, a special show on Rahul Gandhi, turned in 21 per cent share.
‘Tiranga’, their I-Day special gave an astounding 33 per cent.
‘Vansh’, on the Thackeray family, 26 per cent.
‘Vansh’, on the Mahajan family, 19 per cent.
‘Raj Ka Uday’, on Raj Thackeray, 22 per cent.
‘Mere Khoon Ka Ek Ek Katra’, on Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary, 32 per cent.

If that is not indication that the viewer is more than willing to spend his time on good content, what is? The difficulty is that such content needs a lot of planning, travelling, spending and ideating and the other content (of the ‘Rakhi Swayamvar’ type) comes easy, packaged, and free. The former content takes time and effort to build a brand and bring in the TRPs and the latter brings instant gratification.

Most CEOs and editors have resolved this stand-off between instant gratification and long-term returns in favour of the former. It is beyond their capacity and vision to change the game now and play for the future. That is a call only the owners can take because it could mean taking a hit for a bit and the possibility of failure is real, too.

That’s the crucial difference between News 24 and Zee News. The owners of News 24 started with the “news is back” proposition, but quickly abandoned it. They did not have enough faith in news and took the silly route in no time. That has not given them any great business advantage. The proprietors of Zee News gave a clear diktat to return to sensible news and stay with it. They risked falling ratings and business. That clarity and patience has helped Zee gain respectability without hurting its profitability.

If tomorrow all Hindi channels were to suddenly pull the plug on stupid content, what would the viewer do, stop watching news? Nah, even if it is true that the viewer hates sensible content (like the channels keep telling us all the time), they would still have no choice but to watch the channels.

So the burden of change is on the channels, not the viewers. If only more owners had Subhash Chandra’s guts!

(The views expressed here are of the author’s and not those of the editors and publisher of


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