The news broadcasting industry has seen a roller-coaster time over the few months due to the 10+2 ad cap issue, the clash between broadcasters and TAM and the process of cable digitisation. Broadcasters are betting big on Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to ensure complete transparency in ratings and improve the quality of data available. The Union Cabinet also approved the proposal of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for bringing out a comprehensive regulatory framework in the form of guidelines for television rating agencies in India. The proposal is based on recommendations made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). There has been a lot of action in this space, and with the General Elections round the corner, every news channel is geared up to ensure the best coverage with a host of innovative programming formats.
In conversation with exchange4media, Kartikeya Sharma, Managing Director, ITV Network speaks about the key focus areas of the group in 2014, programming strategy for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the expansion plans of ITV Network and much more…
What are the key focus areas of the ITV Network in 2014?
The year 2014 will be very exciting for the news broadcasting industry. It is a great opportunity to showcase the power of content and good reportage. The last one year has taught us that only good content can attract viewership on the channel. Our key focus area is to become the largest and the most profitable news network in the country. We already have seven channels in our bouquet and we will be coming out with four more channels over the next two quarters.
There has always been a notion that news channels are not profitable, but I feel quite contrary to that. I think news channels can be profitable if we get our business models right. Things are changing rapidly and technology has a very important role to play, so if channels adapt and learn technology, then it can be really helpful in their growth.
What is your programming strategy for this year? How is the ITV Network gearing up for elections?
I think our programming mix is working very well for us. The kind of market share that we have acquired in the last 9-10 months has been meteoric. India News has grown its market share to 9.5 per cent in less than a year. Deepak Chaurasia, being one of the most recognised faces of television, has bolstered the image of India News.
We are very big on news and it has worked for us. We have not branched out to other segments in the news space. Hence, I am very happy with the programming of India News. NewsX is also doing very well. The time spent on India News is higher than Aaj Tak, India TV or ABP News consistently for more than 30 weeks. It is a strong sign for us and we are confident of acquiring more market share.
We are also launching big shows on both the channels for the elections and a new line of programming will be seen on NewsX from February onwards.
Is the ITV Network planning to launch some new products in the recent quarter?
We are coming up with India News Business, which will be launched in the next quarter. We will not just be concentrating on the equity market, but on the commodities market too. The commodities segment is growing and there is not a single product that gives enough importance to the commodities market, so we will be targeting that segment. However, we don’t have any further plans to enter the print space.
In February 2013, the ITV Network bought majority stake in Cent Percent Media, but later it was learnt that the deal was suspended. What was the reason behind this?
We had an interim arrangement, where Cent Percent Media was going to handle the ad sales for India News. We tried that, but it did not work out and we thought that we have grown too big to outsource our ad sales. Hence, we have decided to set up our own sales team and very shortly we will have a few people joining us.
The MIB has recently approved the new TV ratings guidelines. What will be the implications of the guidelines and how will it impact the broadcasting industry?
I am a little skeptical of such guidelines. I think that in a free market, the market forces should determine how the system should work and not the government. It is important for the market to devise its own mechanism and it will be more prudent if the market sets up the framework.
The cost factor will be a major issue if the sample size increases on regular intervals. So, do you think this increasing cost can be detrimental to the quality of ratings?
Any sort of cost that is used in a scientific manner to improve the quality of information can never be bad. If it makes the process transparent and more robust, then there should not be any problem.
Are you happy with the way TAM is performing? What are your expectations from BARC?
I don’t have a problem with TAM in the sense that in the absence of anything else, how can we say that TAM is wrong? It is the only currency that the market accepts, but if there will be any other mechanism then it will be fantastic. A larger sample size will always be welcome and it will be better if they can make it more robust and bring value for the advertisers. From a broadcaster’s perspective, it will be great if the rating agency can gauge trends related to the viewership patterns.
Why do you think that 14+2 is the ideal ad cap?
I believe that anything above 10+2 is welcome by the industry. The major source of revenue for us is advertisement and not subscription. We have not reached that milestone yet in India that subscription revenues become a larger source of income. I believe that the consumer should decide because ultimately consumer is the king and interference in a business model is perhaps not prudent for an industry that is not doing very well. It is not good for the industry as a whole, because there are not any tangential sources of alternate revenue that will fulfill the gap that will be created.
Should exit polls be banned?
I think that an exit poll should be as scientific as possible. There is no problem with the exit polls, but there is a problem with the way in which they are done beyond a point. When we start converting the vote share into seats that is where the problem comes in, because there are too many variables and you can go horribly wrong. Hence, it should be more scientific and limited to those aspects that can be quantified.
What are the trends shaping the broadcast industry in 2014?
Content will continue to be supreme and channels should be able to run lots of news. Hence, I believe that people should start spending more money on content rather than distribution and other aspects.