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TV news channels battle to get hotter — Distribution key to growth of channels

25-June-2005
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TV news channels battle to get hotter — Distribution key to growth of channels

Some time ago, In-Time, the news division of Incablenet, went off air. Officials at the cable television company said the decision to close down the news division was primarily because of the financial unviability of such an operation.

In-Time has gone off air at a time when several news channels are waiting in the wings to enter the broadcast scene.

The news channel segment, which has 24 channels battling it out, recently saw another entrant — Channel 7, run by Jagran TV Pvt Ltd of Jagran Prakashan Group, and which made its debut in April and claims to reach 20 million households.

Times Global Broadcasting Ltd is slated to launch a news/business channel shortly. New Delhi Television recently announced that it has applied to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for permission to uplink its fourth news channel.

Television Eighteen (TV18), another stock market-listed entity, recently announced that it has formed a new venture called Broadcast Newsto launch television channels in the news and information space.

Is there space for so many news channels particularly in a scenario where distribution of a television channel is only in the process of getting streamlined?

"There are 38,000 publications in India. And there are so far just about 250 channels,'' said Mr Sunil Lulla, Chief Executive Officer, Times Global Broadcasting Ltd.

Industry representatives agreed that entry barriers for setting up a news channel were quite low. Initial investment requirement is also considerably low as compared to general entertainment channels, which need a constant supply of content.

But the crucial element of a news channel is the ability to sustain with information that is different and niche. "Today most channels offer similar news programmes or similar kinds of news programmes. They are getting into the `me too' phenomenon,'' said an analyst tracking the media sector.

At a recent seminar on news channels in Mumbai, industry representatives had pointed out that repackaging of news in a unique format was essential in the backdrop of the changes in the print media.

Channel 7, which has entered the fray, recently, believes that its focus on infotainment would help it stand apart from other news channels. "We have been able to garner top 30 advertisers on to our channel in these two months,'' said Mr Piyush Jain, Chief Operating Officer, Channel 7.

"The depth of news is more important particularly for business news channels because information flowing out of these channels are usually put to use by investors," said the analyst.

Times Global's alliance with Reuters, which has taken a 26 per cent stake in the news channel, believes it has the strength of a local as well as a global news broadcaster.

The dependence on advertisement for revenues also does not allow news channels to look for a niche space, as they need to maintain a pan-Indian presence. Some of the news channels have opted to become pay channels in order to explore revenues from the subscription route.

However, broadcasters agree that distribution is singularly the most crucial dampener in the growth of channels. "Our challenge is to survive over the next few years and distribution is critical for that,'' Mr Lulla said. Times Global's new channel wants to be present in the top 25 cities. Channel 7 believes that it will be a part of the preferential set of channels. "Our aim is to be among the top 3-4 news channels,'' Mr Jain said.

At present most of the multi-system operators are going in for a major digital overhaul. This could help improve availability of channels in homes, an official of a MSO said. The roll out of DTH in the coming months should also augur well.

Nevertheless, a consolidation of news channels cannot be ruled out, industry players say.

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