Brands offer mixed views as news content debate rages

While some brands like Bajaj, Parle, Dollar and Amul have decided to boycott channels spreading 'toxicity' and 'fake content', others have opted for a cautious wait-and-watch policy

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Oct 15, 2020 12:14 PM

The recent TRP scam that has hit the television industry has led to a massive debate over the functionong of news broadcasters and their coverage of events, with many pointing out that there has been a rise in toxicity and divisive content on these channels to drive TRPs.

Taking a stand against such content, some brands like Bajaj, Parle, Dollar and Amul recently announced their decision to boycott channels that spread toxicity, abuse and fake news.

While the whole situation might have the potential to impact the revenue side of things as thousands of crores are spent on television advertising every year based on the TRPs, the big quesion is: Will a handful of brand boycotts jeopardize news TV ad revenues?

The situation also reminds one of what happened in the US sometime back. In the US, large companies boycotted advertising on social media for amplifying hate speech.

Cautious Approach
Brands like Bajaj, Parle, Dollar and Amul have already gone on record to withdraw their support to channels that promote toxic content. However, with over 400 news channels in 23 languages reaching out to a sizable consumer base, most advertisers have taken a cautious wait-and-watch policy.

For example one of the biggest advertisers on News TV, Syska Group, has stayed away from the boycott call.

While the content on news channels may be largely shrill, it does not miss on the numbers that marketers are seeking. Advertising on news channels is a great fit for brands in the ongoing market scenario where every ad dollar counts like never before.

“Content served on various channels, be it GEC or news, definitely has its own influence on the consumer minds across different geographies, age groups and social strata,” underlines Amit Sethiya, CMO, Syska Group.

According to Sethia, Syska Group has always been using TV as the primary medium to connect with its audience to convey its attributes as a thought leader category brand in the country.

“While freedom of speech is the fundamental right, ensuring that it does not touch extremity is also the responsibility of the stakeholders,” he mentions cautiously.

Some marketing experts feel that by boycotting news channels, brands are doing their bit in course-correcting editorial lapses. However, this sentiment does not define a large number of brands that advertise heavily on news channels.

“We have not taken any decision in this regard. Our's is an international brand, so nothing has been decided on that front,” said Ravi Sharma, Head Marketing PR, Hyundai Motors India Ltd, when asked about brands boycotting news channels and Hyundai’s take on it.

A number of other brands that we spoke to preferred to disassociate from the ongoing TRP controversy that has brought the news TV into spotlight.

Defending that news TV advertising will not get affected by few brand boycotts, a top news executive explains why brands will not afford to stay away from the genre despite it drawing flak recently.

“Advertisers have their own perspectives, choices and opinions as far as news content is concerned. It’s a very news-heavy environment right now, and because of the cost effective delivery by the genre, it is taken up in most of the clients plans,” shared the executive.

While the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India TV and News Broadcasters Association (NBA) President Rajat Sharma has complimented the advertisers who have come forward and taken a stand against toxic content. He has also stated that it will contribute greatly in NBA’s fight against this menace. However, the fact that TV news continues to attract higher viewership cannot be overlooked at the same time.

Sharing his views on the whole debate, MK Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network, remarked that manipulated viewership data is used by unscrupulous channels to cheat advertisers and competitors. "Such channels cause irreparable loss to honest players like us besides fooling the nation. We had flagged off the inexplicable and abnormal rise in the ratings of some channels in different markets to relevant authorities at different times in the past,” he said.

Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP Network too shared his concerns over the controversy that has rocked the industry. Pandey said all channels cannot be seen with the same lens. “The entire news genre cannot be put under scrutiny. Only a select few channels have been reaping substantial illegitimate benefits. Advertisers can easily differentiate between channels that are promoting a brand of sinister polarization and unethical journalism, from those who respect ethical values and speak truth to power. One cannot generalize all news channels within the same purview of content and inculpate the entire genre for just one incident.”
Assuring that advertisers will look at content and not just the numbers, the ABP Network CEO said,“Advertisers will surely choose authenticity and quality of content over numbers, because these factors directly impact the image of the brand. We, at ABP Network, have been ardently chasing our mission to inform and empower our viewers through powerful, impactful, and inspiring stories. We believe in ensuring the highest ethical standards of journalism and speaking truth to power. And this shall always remain our earnest endeavour.”

So marketers getting divided by this boycott call is no surprise.

As Amit Khanna, writer, filmmaker, media veteran and social commentator, wrote in his recent column, “No one will tell you that the total revenue of news channels put together is just a billion dollar out of the $35 billon media and entertainment industry", the fact remains that despite being a fraction of the spends, the genre continues to score on two fronts--low cost and high impact-- , the two buzzwords that marketers will also stand by.

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