I am requesting the ad fraternity to stand by us: Arnab Goswami

Goswami, President of the News Broadcasters Federation, says broadcasters are scaling up coverage and this requires more infrastructure, more people, more resources

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Published: Mar 28, 2020 4:36 PM  | 6 min read
Arnab Goswami

As news broadcasters scale up their effort to keep viewers updated and motivated through the lockdown period, Arnab Goswami, President of the News Broadcasters Federation, has appealed to the advertising fraternity on behalf of all the broadcasters the federation represents to help them stay afloat.

In a chat with exchange4media, Goswami explains how news viewership is sky rocketing at the moment and how it is only going to rise further in the coming days. According to him every hour of the day is prime time now. Since viewership numbers are growing like never before, advertisers investing in news will also benefit from the same in the near future.

Edited excerpts:

TV, especially the news genre, has seen a huge growth in viewership in the last few days. Do you see the numbers growing further?
The figures that BARC put out in the Nielson report has numbers from the first part of the first week and principally these figures are of the pre-lockdown period. The post-lockdown period numbers are going to come out in next Friday's report and if you were to look at the trend, I expect at least a 50% to 100% jump in viewership in the lockdown phase. That is the sense I am getting in terms of the traffic, the number of questions, the interactivity and the social media numbers. I am overall seeing a great increase in news consumption from the day of the junta curfew. So yes, I see an unprecedented growth in news viewership across all segments in the lockdown period because the news is not just only news coverage now. It is also information.
We are also looking at infotainment. We have performers, artists, poets, retired military personnel, actors and personalities from different domains all contributing to keep the awareness effort going. Since it's become a bit of a collective national enterprise, I expect the viewership figures to absolutely skyrocket in the coming days.

In a gloomy period like this a lot of news channels are planning special programming to keep the audience motivated and engaged. What is the kind of special content Republic is putting out at this time?
There is one segment which I'm doing every day and which is now becoming extremely popular as well - it is called ‘Hashtag Lockdown Questions’. There is a lot of information the government is giving about the lockdown which is very specific and sometimes very technical. We are trying to simplify this data and break it down for our viewers. We are answering all sorts of questions - be it related to medical issues, people's problems, day-to-day living problems, permissions around travel in case of emergency or questions on any unprecedented situations that people find themselves in.

Every day I take about 50 to 60 calls and we are flooded with thousands of questions.

We’ve also been having a lot of popular faces coming on air to speak to the people watching TV. We’re having people like music composers - Sulaiman Merchant, Adnan Sami, Palash Sen - and many others appear on our channel. From the sports fraternity we have Leander Paes and Bhaichung Bhutia who are coming on air regularly to motivate people. We’ve also had fitness experts like Rujuta Diwekar, Mickey Mehta and Baba Ramdev on air. So what we're trying to do here is go beyond the news coverage. To make this lockdown successful, we have realized that not 99%, we need 100% of Indians to participate.

It is not just our channel, most channels are trying to blend in information and infotainment. I think it'll be a clutter breaker record viewing period for us.

It is a very slow period for the economy. How does it impact the broadcasters?
The first thing I'd like to point is that news channels do not have large reserves in their treasury. We are public broadcasters and resources can dry up very quickly for us. Secondly, we are having to scale up our resource coverage at this time - it is more elaborate, more detailed. It requires more infrastructure, more people, more resources. We have to keep our staff mobile at a time when there is no public transport. All of this pushes our expenses way up. We are not scaling down our expenses because we believe that we have to do our job no matter what.
I am, therefore, appealing to the advertising fraternity on behalf of the entire news broadcasting fraternity of which I have been a part for 23 years to help us out. A lot of us do not have large corpuses in their treasuries and in order to keep ourselves afloat at this time we need help.

In order to ensure that quality of coverage does not go down, we want extra help from the advertising fraternity. We are getting unprecedented viewership at a time. We are producing 19 to 20 hours of original content every day and our reporters, our producers and our entire team is taking the risk as emergency services, to do this.

What is the kind of support you need from the advertising fraternity?
On behalf of the entire News Broadcasters Federation, which includes a lot of players from smaller markets, a lot of broadcasters in the languages domain and a lot of channels who do not have the access to reach out to the stakeholders directly, I am requesting the ad fraternity to stand by us.

Eventually, our advertisers are our viewers. When I launched Republic people supported me because they were also my viewers. At that time, I asked people to support me because I went to the advertisers and asked them to support me and help me launch an independent channel because they are my viewers. Today I am asking on behalf of the entire news industry. It is good to go out there and ask honestly. I can tell you people are watching unprecedented amounts of news and the primetime is through the day. It is not just at 9pm any longer. Prime time is at lunchtime, breakfast time, evening time, early evening time and all the time. I think it'd be well worth it if the advertising industry steps forward and invest in the industry now. We will remember this in the future.

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