The South Indian culture pool is unique, as are their news viewing habits. There is a die-hard following and passion for locally flavoured content. For decades, Southern states have been very loyal to their languages, and no amount of Hindi Cinema or TV could dilute or diminish their love for them. There is high stickiness to local channels versus Hindi channels.
To begin with, there could be around 10 Hindi news channels that cater to HSMs (Hindi Speaking Markets) and other Hindi speaking pockets of the country. Down South, the number stands at around 40 channels for four states. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka alone have about 23 channels, with many new in the pipeline. Applying the demand-supply theory to such big numbers, there is also a growing debate that many news channels in the South are directly or indirectly controlled by politicians. This could be partially true, but this alone can’t be the reason for the proliferation of news channels here. After all, the viewers watch what they like and not what they are forced to watch.
Viewers in the South also seem to have more time to watch news channels; some channels see 80 to 90 minutes of time spent in comparison with 40 to 45 minutes of time that leading Hindi news channels see. The reach of Southern news channels (about 45 per cent) is comparable with some of the GECs (about 28 per cent) in their territory. The number of male and female viewers watching news channels is almost equal. These are possible reasons the news genre has big share in GRP generation (about 14 per cent in AP, 7 per cent in Karnataka and Kerala, while it stands at 5 per cent for Hindi news channels).
As per TAM rating charts, when viewership graph starts falling post 10 pm elsewhere, viewing is still active till 10.30 pm in the South. In fact, a good number of people catch the headlines at 11 pm too. For Malayalam speaking viewers in Dubai, there are special separate telecasts too.
The content mix also sets them apart from their Hindi counterparts. For women, channels air a variety of shows on cinema, infotainment, re-enacted crime, travel, religion/ astrology and cooking in the morning slots. Live telecast of a movie album launch or a celebrity wedding for hours (even at the cost of cancelling key news bulletins on primetime) is not unheard of on Southern news channels.
One of my industry friends believes viewers expect much more from a news channel than just news and current affairs. So, news channels serving more than news to expand their viewership is acceptable, while another friend says that ruthless competition due to overflow of the channels is making them go beyond news to generate viewership. I agree with both of them.
The question that needs to be asked is – how further away from news can a news channel go in terms of content? Should there be set boundaries or is it just a number game? When the yardstick is same for all the channels across the country, and revenues are purely linked to the numbers, news channels in the south are forced to go beyond news.
What is certain is that the DNA of South Indian news channels is surely different from that of news channels anywhere else in the country. Call it survival tactics or call it serving the viewer with exactly what they want. People are watching and asking for more.
The author is Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer, Asianet News Network.