Bengal is on a growth trajectory in terms of viewership & news consumption: Avinash Pandey

As ABP Ananda celebrates their 15th anniversary, Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, talks to e4m about Bengal as a market, the growth story of ABP Ananda and more

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jun 11, 2020 8:24 AM
avinashPandey

Securing the top position on BARC ratings for seven consecutive weeks, ABP Ananda, the Bengali news channel from ABP News Network, has plans to keep the numbers not just consistent but also growing. In a chat with e4M, Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, talks about how West Bengal has always been on a growth trajectory not just in terms of viewership and news consumption but has also emerged as a market favoured by advertisers. Pandey talks about Bengal as a market, the growth story of ABP Ananda, shows during lockdown, viewer-driven content, on-ground initiatives and more.

Excerpts

Your rating numbers are in perfect sync with our PM's vision of 'Vocal for Local'. Tell us a little about growing ratings. Is it only the stay-at-home traffic that is driving all the growth?
Over the years, ABP Ananda has carved its niche in the fiercely-competitive West Bengal market and emerged as the strongest force around, especially where regional broadcast news is concerned. As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of ABP Ananda and embark on another significant year in our journey, we are poised to take bigger strides in the realm of television news.
With the cacophonous physical world turning quiet, the vibrant home-bound life is being embraced by Indians, leading to higher internet and television consumption. No doubt the lockdown has contributed significantly to the surge in viewership. Nonetheless, our novel and innovative content offerings, even during these challenging times, have been equally relevant in attracting eyeballs. We have been the No.1 across genres for seven consecutive weeks and the gap between our competitors’ reach and ours has widened further, distinctly revealing our growth story.

How has Bengal been a market for news consumption when compared to other centres? Do you see it growing? Why? 
West Bengal has always been on a growth trajectory in terms of viewership and news consumption. It has emerged as one of the most favourite markets vis-à-vis investments, for both broadcasters and advertisers. Moreover, the hyper-local news ecosystem is burgeoning amid the COVID-19 period, as viewers are constantly on the lookout for the latest developments in their district/township about the ever-evolving situation.
Being a credible choice and long-time news partner for the people in Bengal, ABP Ananda has been the go-to channel for catching the latest updates.

News channels are also offering infotainment to cut through the monotony of news around the pandemic; What is ABP Ananda doing on that front?

The relentless news coverage on the coronavirus can be depressing for people already living under the stress of lockdown. In such a scenario, we need to diversify our content to avoid alarming viewers. At ABP Ananda, we have been focusing on offering several informative and educational programmes. Previously, we aired virtual classes for students of classes IX to XII, which received an overwhelming response from viewers. We have also experimented with newer formats imparting social education. With Ghanta Khanek Sange Suman, Suman De has been hosting a live show from home, which has been lauded by the public.

News as a category is showing unprecedented growth. What are you doing to keep the numbers sustainable? Do you think it will be possible to retain the numbers even post the lockdown? 

Considering the current uncertainty, there are many imponderables in making a forecast. Although viewership will decline to some extent after the lockdown, it will still be high compared to previous quarters. With COVID-19 continuing to hold people hostage to its ever-evolving threats, viewers will continue seeking the latest news updates.
Having said that, we are hoping for positive growth as our focus remains on viewer-driven content and persistent innovation.

With the elections just a year away and social distancing in place, do you think news channels in Bengal will play a key role in the entire campaign process and have content in the form of debates etc. like we see in the western countries?  

All major industries, as we know them, have been irrevocably impacted by the pandemic. The broadcast industry is no exception. As a result of social distancing, event virtualisation in the news genre has emerged as the new normal.
Thanks to virtual events and live home bulletins, our news channels have received a new lease of life too. Only recently, in making up for their lost lessons, ABP Ananda aired virtual classes for students of classes IX to XII from state-aided Madhyamik and Higher Secondary Schools as well as ICSE and ISC. This has been one of the many initiatives wherein we have pursued our vision towards responsible, action-oriented, impactful journalism. By the same token, we will ensure the elections are covered just as effectively as in the pre-COVID times.
Although social distancing and other factors pose a challenge, the pandemic has also unfolded opportunities to innovate, which shall remain our long-term focus.

A considerable shift has been witnessed in content consumption, with a lot of viewers moving towards digital. How has the channel been performing on digital platforms?
During these times, the accelerated adoption of digital media consumption cannot be denied. Through a significant shift in consumer behaviour, intermingled with our zeal to produce new content by tapping the pulse of the viewers, a massive uptick has been witnessed on all our digital platforms. ABP Ananda’s YouTube channel received a whopping 6.2 million views on May 20, 2020 (source: YouTube Analytics). This indicates the profound impact the channel has had over the Bengali audience. We have taken the digital media’s robust takeoff as a golden opportunity for engagingour viewers all the more and providing them with a rich portfolio of online content.

What are the special programming/on-ground initiatives taken up by the channel?
At ABP Ananda, our focus has always remained on adding intangible cultural elements to our content in establishing a worthwhile connect with Bengali viewers. Some of our most fabled events include the Khaibar Pass Food Festival – one of Kolkata’s biggest on-ground food festivals celebrating the effervescent Bengali food culture. The success of this property paved the way for three more Khaibar Pass Events in North Bengal, South Bengal and North 24 Parganas. The others include Sera Bangali,an award show honouring eminent personalities of Bengal, whose contributions have brought laurels to the state, and Jukti-Tokko– a renowned debate show empowering viewers by delivering authentic conversations on topics that have a significant impact on their lives. All our special programming initiatives are conducted with one sole purpose–addressing the needs of our viewers while emerging as the state’s vox populi and opinion-maker.

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