TV news viewership scales new heights with COVID-19 coverage

Industry heads say the upward trend for news channels will continue at least until quarantine and lockdown measures stay in force

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Apr 1, 2020 8:55 AM
TV news

India has got hooked onto TV and watching news bulletins like never before. Even with a skeletal staff and staggered workforce, TV news is beating its own records in viewership with most leading channels surpassing their past records.

According to the latest BARC India and Nielsen report, the need for continuous updates has led to a spike in news consumption on television with a 57% increase in impressions. This most players say was expected.

While the overall TV viewing time has also gone up substantially, the news genre has seen the highest growth in the first week of the lockdown followed by movies and kids genre.

TV News viewership, according to experts, will only go northwards from here. In a recent interview with exchange4media, Arnab Goswami, Founder of Republic Media Network, said news will see a 50 to 100 per cent jump in viewership in the lockdown phase as primetime on TV news is no longer restricted to the 9pm slot. Every hour during the day is now prime time, Goswami asserted.

With circulation of newspapers on hold, TV news has turned out to be the biggest source of information during this phase of ‘Stay At Home’.  

It is not just the overall viewership that is on a growth trajectory. Individual channels, too, have shown unprecedented growth in viewership numbers. In Week 10 between March 7 and March 13, Aaj Tak led the Hindi news genre with 153379000 impressions. Cut to next week. Aaj Tak continues to lead the genre but this time with 216024000 impressions, reflecting almost 40 per cent growth in a week’s time. Meanwhile, Zee News recorded 142089000 impressions in Week 11 up from 114390000 impressions in the previous week.

The English news genre has a similar tale to tell. At number one is Republic TV which has gone up from 692000 impressions to 852000 impressions in Week 11. Times Now has touched 644000 impressions, growing from Week 10’s 501000 impressions.

Avinash Kaul, CEO, Network18, seconds Goswami. “Non-Prime Time viewership during morning and afternoon has seen a big upward shift with most people relying on TV news in the absence of the morning newspaper routine. NCCS-A has also seen a sharp growth of 11%. I am happy to note that the number of women viewers are also on the rise and in terms of viewing minutes they have surpassed male viewers. Data also shows that the Prime Minister’s address on lockdown was the biggest TV event ever - even bigger than the IPL finals,” he said.

Last week, the daily average reach of Network18 channels reached 10 crores. The growth can be ascertained from the fact that before the COVID-19 outbreak, this figure used to be around 7 crore.

While these are numbers from BARC for the Males 22+ individuals’ category, interestingly, as highlighted by the Nielsen report, the age category of 2 to 14 years is also watching news in the lockdown period, apart from their dose of kids content.

The spike is here to stay as the outbreak will have several implications.

According to Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, “News channels, in general, have already witnessed an upsurge in viewership for months together, on account of the elections, key verdicts, other national news events, and the ongoing corona virus outbreak. Furthermore, we are certain that this rising curve in viewership will stay steady for weeks (or months) since the quarantine and lockdown measures are to remain in force for some time.”

Even regional news has seen an uptick in numbers. Bengali news, for instance, has seen a good growth. ABP Ananda that leads the charts in Bengal recorded 64821000 impressions in Week 11, as opposed to 34147000 impressions in week 10. The channel, thus achieved, a growth of almost 90% in viewership.

However, broadcasters have maintained that they do not want to milk the situation. The growth in news is organic as the need to stay updated gains importance in the present scenario. “As a responsible news channel, we don’t perceive the COVID-19 crisis as a viewership windfall. The world, right now, is facing an unprecedented challenge with most countries susceptible to a wider and potentially more pernicious outbreak,” Pandey said. 

“With the story changing by the hour, our goal is to provide viewers with the best and most immediate information available to us, which is solely and purely guided by facts. We follow an approach that puts our viewers’ questions and concerns first,” he added.

News viewership on TV is complemented by the genre’s growing popularity on digital media too. As per the Nielsen report, news apps have seen 8% more users per week with an increase of 17 per cent in time spent per user/week. This growth, however, has been led by non-English news apps.

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