The television news channels have often been subjected to severe criticism for trivializing serious content. And as the market becomes cluttered with new channels joining the fray, the criticism has only become sharper. In the morning session titled ‘And the ratings-content debate continues…’, panelists took an in-depth view of the TRP regime and the responsibility of television channels in disseminating information. The session was part of the day-long NewsNext 2009 conference, organised by the exchange4media Group in the Capital on August 26. Times Now is the main sponsor of NewsNext 2009.
The panel brought together media maestros from across the spectrum, and included Pradeep Hejmadi, Senior Vice President, TAM Media Research; Anuradha Prasad Chairperson and Managing Director, BAG Films & Media Ltd; Jehangir Pocha, Co-owner and Editor, NewsX; Anamika Mehta, COO, Lodestar Universal; and Deepak Jolly, Vice-President, Coca-Cola India. The panel was moderated by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an educator and a writer.
The session began with Hejmadi’s presentation on ‘News Content Track’, where he explained how News Content Track empowered news editors by allowing them to analyse their choice of stories, assess the stories that were being telecast, and ascertain whether the race for ‘exclusive’ was actually paying or not. The idea behind this product is to herald a fresh era that separates consumption of content from myth.
Following this presentation, the session saw a fairly animated debate on the ratings issue. While some panel members insisted on a balanced approach, others stressed on the ground reality of ratings that forced channels to ‘sensationalise’ content. Anuradha Prasad pointed out, “The channels are caught between the an agency that gives ratings and the advertisers who see these ratings before coming to a channel. If I have to survive I will produce the content that will let me survive.”
While Anamika Mehta agreed with the pressures that news channels faced, she stressed, “India is a country that has a huge TV viewing population, and in the long term, it is serious content that will stand out. As the Fourth Estate, for news channels, accountability should be on the top line. Each channel has to decide whether they have to produce content that will connect with the audience or indulge in the mindless TRP race.”
Jehangir Pocha also emphasised that the key lay in a balanced coverage that could comprise politics, business or lifestyle. He noted, “What really sells is quality content. A good political programme might get better ratings than any GEC show if it is handled well by the journalist.”
As the ratings debate continued, what emerged was that serious content could also enjoy high ratings. Hejmadi referred to News Content Track data that showed that some of the most serious stories were getting the best ratings.
Meanwhile, Mehta stressed that the problem was not with Bollywood or entertainment trivia, but the trivialisation of serious issues such as hunger, starvation and drought.
While the media barons engaged in this tug-of-war over the TRP regime, Jolly brought in an advertiser’s perspective. He said, “It is a huge challenge for the advertiser to choose between ratings and content. There is cross as you see news channels moving towards entertainment and entertainment channels getting newsy, and that makes it difficult to decide what to buy, when to buy and assess if the medium is effective enough.”
The session was then thrown open to audience for questions.