Focus is on retaining public confidence & respect for brand: HR Ranganath, Public TV

HR Ranganath, Chairman and Managing Director, Writemen Media Private Ltd, talks about how Public TV is looking to sustain viewership garnered by the news channel during the lockdown and more

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: May 29, 2020 1:31 PM

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Public TV

To the viewers of Kannada news channels, H R Ranganath, Chairman and Managing Director of Writemen Media Private Limited, needs no introduction. Every weeknight at 9pm, he dons the hat of an anchor-editor-analyst and story-teller on his popular show ‘Big Bulletin’ and demystifies the complex stories that have made the headlines that day.

In addition to being the people’s editor, his journey as an entrepreneur saw him launch Public TV in 2012 and grow the channel into one of the leading players in the uber competitive Kannada news space.

In an interaction with exchange4media, Ranganath tells us that the channel will strive to retain a significant number of new viewers who tuned in during the lockdown, build brand trust, adopt a wait-and-watch stance and sustain and grow the channel during the crisis and beyond.

Edited excerpts:

How would you assess the performance of Public TV during the lockdown?
The response has been phenomenonal. With the public confined to their homes, fear and curiosity about the virus, and lack of original content on GECs news channels saw an increase in consumption.

If the lockdown had got over within a week, it would have been a different story. As the uncertainty prevailed and the lockdown kept getting extended, people continued tuning in to news channels. Public TV saw a significant increase in viewing, our GRP numbers tripled. People looked for content that was reliable and from a trust-worthy source.

For example, on Big Bulletin, which I anchor every night at 9pm, I tell stories behind the big news of the day. I decipher the information and simplify it so that viewers can understand it in the local language. During the lockdown, the GRP of the show has increased 2.5 times.

The lockdown has also brought in newer audiences from the entertainment channels. We have had viewers, who stay in Karnataka but whose first language is not Kannada, tuning in as they wanted to know what was happening locally.

Where have you seen the growth coming from?

We saw a massive surge from three markets — Bangalore, Urban and below-10 lakh. There was an increase in the rural areas but it wasn’t as high as what was seen in the top-three markets. The reason for this is two-pronged. The rural areas were not as affected by Covid-19 as urban areas and when it comes to TV viewing the rural population is skewed towards entertainment and during the lockdown they tuned in to movies instead of news channels.

How are you looking to sustain these numbers?
It’s impossible for all news channels to hold on to these numbers, it’s not going to happen. How much of this viewership can be retained? We will only know this once the entertainment channels come back with original content and when normal life activities resume. We will get a clear picture on this in the next two months.

Despite the increased reach and number we were not able to monetise it as many advertisers were not visible during this period. Very few advertisers used this opportunity to advertise. However, looking at it from a long-term perspective I believe we would have increased our viewership base by a minimum 10-15%, it could be as high as 30%.

Keep in mind that many viewers have become accustomed to seeing news channels. Also, once the lockdown ends the virus will not disappear and will remain with us for some time, so people will keep coming back to news channels. I think we will be able to retain 10 to 20% of the new viewers.

This means that my base GRP post the lockdown will be higher than pre-lockdown. I may be able to take advantage of the higher GRPs/rating and negotiate ad rates. This is also dependant on the advertising industry recovering from the Covid-19 shock.

At the moment, I can’t quantify the increase in ratings or rates but the top three to four channels will benefit.

How can news channels be more relevant to advertisers?
The whole business of rates is a matter between a news channel and the advertiser. You can’t generalise and apply a one-size-fits-all on it. It's very channel specific. More importantly, it will take time for advertisers to come back to the market. Just because some businesses have opened, it doesn’t mean the consumer confidence is back. All the issues are inter-related and it will take some more time before the markets stabilize.

While you have grown you continue to be a challenger brand. What are your plans to take on the leader?
Keep working, be persistent and be pro-public and people, the rest will happen automatically. That has been my policy and I will continue to do that. I don't work to become Number One; I work so that my work makes me Number One.

How do you see things panning out in the year ahead, especially in terms of revenues?
At the moment, we are all interested in surviving. The focus is on holding the public confidence and trust and ensuring the brand retains its respect. My policy is I will live today so that I can battle tomorrow. Currently, no plans that you make will work as we don’t know how long this situation will last. It’s better to take things one day at a time. We have to wait and see how the economy bounces back and when consumer confidence returns. Instead of planning for on a quarterly, half-yearly and annual basis and strategizing a target, it is better for companies in these critical times to think of retaining and sustaining the company and employees.

What is on your to-do list in the short term?
Not to lose the confidence of people and keep working, and to look after my colleagues well.

Can you tell us about your Digital Play?
Public TV has been always extremely strong on the digital platform in Karnataka. Our Facebook base is around 2.5 million, YouTube subscription around 2 million and our app has around half a million subscribers. Our website page views are around 20 million a month and our digital platforms are doing well and growing. Even on the revenue front, we are doing well.

Public TV was started in 2012. What would you list as the key achievements for the channel?
Starting the channel was one of the biggest achievements. Sustaining it till today without bowing before anybody in a true journalistic spirit has been my second greatest achievement. To keep the channel growing and sustain it in the future is the challenge.

Any expansion plans?
Thanks to Covid-19, expansions and heavy capital investments in the media industry will be heavily restricted. That norm and rule will apply to me as well.

Being a journalist and a business owner, how do you draw a fine line between being retaining the journalistic editorial spirit while also being the business head?
You need to know what the public demands are and how to cater to it without compromising on journalistic ethics and ensuring your reputation, brand equity and brand trust is not compromised.

I have given freedom to both the editorial and sales departments. Both sides need to be checked when something is wrong. It's a balance you need to maintain but that doesn't mean a compromise. No advertiser will come and tell you how you have to run a channel but you can't be overtly injurious to an industry which is feeding you. You learn how to maintain a balance. When I first came to Bangalore, my salary was Rs 1,800. I have reached this stage through hard work and common sense. You learn to maintain the balance when you become an entrepreneur.

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