Let’s accept it. Everybody gets vicarious pleasure seeing the ‘darker’ and ‘naughtier’ side of society butterflies. Newspapers were the first to discover this side of the reader leading to the emergence of glamorous Page 3 content. With time, the news channels followed, planting their ‘peppy reporters’ at ‘hip’ parties to grab a byte or catch the celebrities when they least expect it.
For those news channels which were the first to join the band of newspapers in reporting parties of high profile people, this was a well-thought out strategic move. Observed Sonia Verma, Executive Editor, NDTV 24x7, “News had become too formatted and that is what really led to ‘Night Out’. Our objective was clearly to reach a niche audience. We found that the format was becoming popular and that is when it got extended to the Hindi version, ‘Raat Baaki’ on NDTV India.”
Verma pointed out that the popularity of the Hindi version of Night Out “shattered the myth that it’s just the upmarket, English speaking, who enjoy the frivolous, light stuff”.
Again, the point is truly whether ‘paparazzi’ reporting is adding tinkle to the revenue kitty of channels. “It makes good business sense as long as a channel is not propagating a certain culture and sticks to its task of reporting. Just as you report politics, business or crime, you report parties which are a reflection of metro life,” said Ashish Kaul, VP-Corporate Brand Development Group, Zee. Kaul put it candidly, “Business is not about being a missionary but a logical process wherein you gauge whether the content will help the channel grow and if the promotion is going to work in its favour or not?”
Interestingly, there are no numbers to support the view that Page 3-type news has in any way boosted viewership. Gopinath Menon, VP-Media, TBWA India, said, “It all started with the channels starting properties so that clients can park money. It worked well initially; however, now it’s really being overdone.” Menon warns that channels need to be careful with such programming considering that “news channels are slowly turning into soap channels”. He pointed out that the numbers of typical 35+, SEC A male viewers are slowly depleting with news channels shifting from ‘hard news’ to ‘soft news’.
Anita Nayyar, Executive Director-North, Starcom, also made an interesting observation: when you are buying space for a client who is looking for a young, peppy TG, you would rather opt for Zoom, which is a complete channel dedicated to light content rather than a 11.30 pm slot of a particular news channel. “There is certainly too much of glamour and frivolousness percolating news channels, which makes us question whether there is substantial reason to choose the news channel over others. The clients who wish to buy airtime on a news channel, do so for its core proposition,” she explained. Like Menon, she also pointed out that there are no numbers to reflect higher ratings for such programmes.
So what is drawing news channels towards such content? “Channels add Page 3 content to their programming to make a difference to their profile,” said Ajay Chacko, Head-Marketing, CNBC TV 18. “We never faced such issues of profile which is the reason we opted to stay away. Moreover, we are in the business of business news which continues to remain the core proposition.”
Moreover, what works well for newspapers may not necessarily click with news channels. Rohit Bansal, Editor (Business), India TV, reasoned, “It’s simple. Everybody can take pleasure in reading his or her favourite section in a newspaper. However, the channels are generally reaching out to single TV households and cannot target individuals. Ultimately, it’s a question of whether your viewer demands it or not. As of now, we at India TV have not seen any clear interest from our viewers to initiate such shows.”
On the other hand, Siddhartha Gupta, Director, Channel 7, questions the very existence of Page 3-ism in India. “Are we really heralding paparazzi culture?” he asked. “In India, the hot-and-wild concept may not really click. As of now, no numbers indicate that there is an audience preferring truly wild parties or for that matter shocking programmes. Would Indian celebrities take it well if they are caught in a compromising position? Can any news channel dare to capture them?”
Gupta bounces back with the query the story started with: “Do we really have ‘Page 3ism’ in India?”