News bujaye pyaas, baaki sab bakwas. In an extremely smart and savvy positioning play, ET Now is redefining the tenets of business television in India. The advertising campaign supports this ploy – ‘You have looked down for the ticker: Now look up for the expertise’. Though the colours are an abomination – the red and blue jar and look tacky, the channel is built on the edifice of hard news. Fortunately, the obsession with the stock markets is passe. That umbilical cord seems to have been cut. So, break the news or report the news and wait for its impact on the markets is the new way.
Using the jagged edge of reportage, a la BBC, ET Now is going after CNBC-TV18. Now, I only have DTH at home as do most people in south Delhi or south and suburban Mumbai, so I wasn’t able to access the channel, which I heard was visible on Hathway Cable only. Finally, I spent a couple of hours at my mom’s place (just to watch telly) in south Delhi because she has cable and DTH. And I was impressed with what I saw, for premium is finally being put on news, which has become a dirty four letter word in Indian media. News was being sold at the nearest discount store.
In those two hours, I saw a busy channel not bombarding me with open interest position, short selling, mid cap index, blah blah. There was a fusillade of stories all targeted at the market indirectly. The objective of the exercise is to target the market with pinpoint accuracy. It is smart bombing. Reportage being the bedrock – I saw Morgan Stanley on monsoons, Essel Mining to sue Suzlon, new investment norms for PSUs, oil secretary receives letter from fertilizer secretary in view of the Mumbai HC order on gas feud between the Ambani brothers, SBI on the prowl, SAIL to hike prices, royalty on iron ore to be hiked, it just wouldn’t stop. I guess, over time there will be reporter fatigue and the catalogue of stories will slow down. But the pace is gratifying. The reporting muscle of the integrated news room is driving home the telltale signs that there has to be a premium on news reporting.
What it has done in turn is that the ennui in ET, the paper is also dissipating, the cross fertilisation from the news channel providing far greater bandwidth and output. Reporters, who were practically doing nothing in the paper, have been galvanised into delivering big ticket stories. ET Now’s stories are getting good display in the paper as well, acting as bigger catalyst for the telly reporting team as their stories are getting wider dispersal. As a stratagem it is working well. The early glitches will obviously give way to a more well rounded delivery mechanism and once the production values stabilise, it will be a force to reckon with.
Do something about the colours though. The competition in the meantime is strangely bolstering its market coverage, widening the band and reducing time for reportage. Reporter’s Diary is now 5 pm, 6 pm and part of the flagship Indian Business Hour at 9 pm. The sheer strength of ET and ET Now’s manpower resources is being brought to bear against the lean CNBC-TV18 gene pool. And the cracks are showing. A new show called Bulls Eye has been introduced by CNBC-TV18, further validating the casino culture in the channel. Profit From It might be out in the heat of the summer, but the underlying credo remains the same.
This bulwark might work in Mumbai, parts of Gujarat – Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Vadodra – some sections of Kolkata replete with marwaris, which are market friendly, but over time the Hammer of Thor unleashed by the combined sinew and muscle of the ET Newsroom will carry the day in my opinion. I also reckon that unlike Times Now, which has had to wage a war of attrition over the last couple of years and use Arnab Goswami as a battering ram, ET Now will be able to reach criticality much quicker. But for that, they need to sort out their carriage woes. For that, they will have to fork out big bucks, because DTH carriage and even cable carriage doesn’t come cheap. In my estimate, it will cost them anything between Rs 50 crore and Rs 60 crore to get on all the relevant platforms, and this needs to be done post haste. Budget Day looms large. In fact, this is a gangbuster weekend for business television. Thursday is the Economic Survey; Friday, the Rail Budget, and then Monday has the Union Budget. ET Now needs to monetise these three days. I am sure the distribution teams are seized of this vantage point and are sallying forth to get on all the platforms. This is a bus, which nobody in the business telly space can afford to miss.
How will CNBC-TV18 combat this new phenomenon? The Jains probably haven’t got over the slight of their editorial top deck leadership being lured away by CNBC-TV18 for Forbes and Financial Times. They managed to hold back the ones headed for FT, but many did leave to venture across to Forbes. Trust the Jains to turn hunters in search of their quarries. I have also been told reliably that the FT project, which was in deep freeze due to the meltdown, has been revived by CNBC. Expect some announcements in the very near future. CNBC’s alliance, tie-up, or whatever else you want to call it, with Mint appears a no-brainer. For Mint doesn’t have the news bandwidth to deal with ET and ET Now. It might be a pleasing looking paper with good weekend reading, but that is just about it. ET appears revitalised with the TV booster shot and this will be a double whammy for CNBC. On Tuesday, I counted eight ET Now stories in ET. Over time, I think this will reduce or maybe it won’t if the management is keen to pursue its integrated news room strategy.
The worst hit taken by CNBC is on the corporate news front, it is a mismatch. ET Now is simply swamping CNBC with its full array of corporate coverage, just as it is focusing on the economy and infrastructure. Fewer guests are the norm at ET Now because its primary thinking is to hand it over to the reporters, have them talk to the anchors and watch its impact on the share prices and the market. I don’t want to see Rakesh Jhunjhunwala telling me that the markets will touch 19,000 in 2009, he has been saying that forever. Nor do I want to see Shankar Sharma tell me that the BSE Sensex will touch 9000. He has been talking them down forever. I am quite fed up of bulls and bears telling me where the market is headed. Nobody had a clue that the world economic order would see such cataclysmic changes in such a short span of time. Only Nouriel Roubini had some idea and inkling. So, I would rather live on a staple of news and not watch four brokers tell me every morning which punt of theirs is right or wrong. It gets a little cumbersome, these talking heads giving us gyan, making money at our expense. For the old adage from the markets still holds good – nobody tells you when to sell, everybody tells you what to buy and when to buy. That is why I liken it to a casino. And believe me, I know a bit about the markets, I have been covering and tracking them since 1994.
And I don’t want to speculate on what will happen to NDTV Profit and UTVi. They need to lift themselves up from the bootstraps, for serious competition with deep pockets is here. It is called ET Now, tacky colours notwithstanding. And to their credit it is a homegrown, homespun venture. No firangs here.
(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir. The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)