The NewsNext 2009 culminated with a passionate discussion between leading news channel CEOs and clients on where news channels were placed today – the distance travelled so far and the road that lay ahead. The moderator of the session, NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, set the tone of the discussion by stating that even for an insider such as her, there was a sense of sameness that had set in news channels when she observed same stories with similar headlines and similar approaches across news channels.
Zee News CEO Barun Das began the discussion by pointing out that the audience was far more intelligent than what one ended up thinking. He observed, “In the wake of last year, which was marked by many high pressure events – from the elections to Olympics to 26/11, news channels have taken many learnings, and the biggest was that accountability within the genre had gone up multiple-fold.” For Das, return on investments had become a reality in news television.
Chintamani Rao, CEO, Times Global Broadcasting, admitted that there would be days when there was a sameness in news because news by definition was something happening out there. He said, “However, there would also be days when we are all doing different things. There would be difference in the way channels are doing things as well. However, I solemnly believe that audience follows brands. The much spoken of rule of three applies to news as well, much as it is true in every other category. There must be something that viewer out there is seeing and ultimately that is important – the differentiation that the viewer is seeing.”
TV Today CEO G Krishnan was on a similar wavelength. He explained, “Even for different language channels, the footage may be common, but the anchor, studio, script, ticker and many other such details are not, and one must understand that this is why channels put a lot of efforts in these points. Every news channel has the advantage of presentation. The oscillation between happens because of the demand and today while English news channels are on the basis of demand, Hindi is mass.”
Bringing an outsider’s perspective, Yum Foods Managing Director Milind Pant observed that the news industry in some sense was a reflection of the society. He said, “The news genre is very vibrant, but brands are built on products. The news industry at present is only segmented on language, and nothing else. The content is really similar than different and hence, from an advertiser viewpoint, it becomes easy to replace a channel with another in the media plan. The fundamental point is how players choose to segment content.”
NDTV Media CEO Raj Nayak pointed out that there was herd mentality, and that this could be addressed at the journalists’ level as well. He said, “All the journalists want the same people. There is no effort from an editorial perspective on how to do things differently. And I do see an opportunity there as well, especially given the economic crisis around us. Why can news channel not get together and collaborate while covering an event or similar stories?”
Nayak also pointed out that advertisers’ approach towards news was a problem. He said that what they said in forums such as these was different from on-ground realities. Whether it was just perception, advertisers viewed news channels as only a reach and frequency medium and the fragmentation in the medium didn’t help that cause either. “The medium and message don’t exist today,” he noted.
TV9 CEO Ravi Krishnan was more candid and stated that news channels were forced to show what viewers wanted to watch. For him, in that sense, audience measurement agency was a regulator of sorts already. He quoted the India TV example and said, “When regular news was not working on the channel, they resorted to the three Rs – Rakhi Sawant, Ramdev Baba and Raju Srivastava! And all of us are doing the same thing.”
For Ravi Krishnan, another problem was of cheap revenues and political money that was spoiling the genre further.
Stop Complaining, and Get On With It
In the second round of discussions of the panel, G Krishnan stated emphatically that even as the news genre was just 11 years old, it had come a long way from the efforts going on Doordarshan in 1998. He said, “We are not regressing, and while we should be critical, it is equally important that we acknowledge the fact that we have come a long way. The recent general elections were an example of what news media can achieve. The coverage had been so in-depth and well spread that there was barely any news of mishaps during voting or related crimes.”
Addressing the measurement allegation specifically, he asked, “When newspapers don’t question the role of readership surveys, why do channels do it? TAM is there only to help news channels and advertisers decide on their interactions to whatever extent. It is not there to be blindly followed.”
On this point, Chintamani Rao, agreed wholeheartedly with G Krishnan. He said, “Yes, everyone looks at numbers, but editorial decisions cannot be on the basis of that, and are not. More importantly, if we really think about it, numbers don’t really surprise people. The occasions on which we feel we have done well, the numbers of the week reflect it, and otherwise.”
Barun Das pointed out here that at present news channels revenues came from sales and that depended on ratings, and that was where the pressure built up. “However, audiences know what they want. When we sanitised the news on Zee News, we expected the ratings to dip, but they did not,” he added.
Adding to that, Raj Nayak said that going forward a new model had to emerge in news channels, where the genre would have identified newer revenue streams. That was the only way to grow.
Ambika Soni ‘I encourage interactions and debates, I am a person with an open mind’
It’s time to go the digital way: Aroon Purie@NewsNext 2009
Ratings with Responsibility: Rajat Sharma@NewsNext 2009
Crisis is a double-edged sword: Raghav Bahl@NewsNext 2009
NewsNext 2009: Of television content and avoiding the TRP trap