News channels draw advertisers with record viewership & credible content

Industry heads say for long-time deals and relations with advertisers, balanced news is still the way forward for most news channels

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Oct 8, 2020 4:54 PM

Television news witnessed a massive spike in viewership during the lockdown and while it has come down a little post the Unlock, it continues to remain higher than before. The advertisers, too, are back and they are looking at both the BARC ratings as well as the content mix.

As per the latest TAM data, the news genre added 31% share of ad volume between August and September, leaving behind GECs’ share of 26%. According to highly placed sources, Dabur that spent between Rs 7 crore and Rs 10 crore annually on the news genre has spent Rs 60 crore in the category between March and May this year.

So are advertisers averse to the idea of advertising on news channels? The answer is a no-brainer. There is no love lost between the advertisers and news channels.

In fact, the unique client count has also been showing an upward trend. Highly placed industry sources say in the Hindi news channel category the unique client count has increased from 241 to 257 between Week 30 and Week 35 (the last available data). Similarly, for English news channels the unique client category has registered a larger growth from 95 to 106 in the same period.

Turns out advertisers aren’t just chasing TRPs when they invest in news channels. While TRP is a still an important part of the decision making, advertisers are also looking at value addition and credibility when they look at associating with a news platform.

“With a majority of our TV budget going into the news genre we want to be careful about the platforms we chose. Sometimes toxicity of content shown on television news impacts the channel’s branding and the audience boycotts the platform. We do not want to be the collateral damage in such situations,” said the marketing head of a popular electronics brand requesting anonymity.

“We have our own measurement tech in place. So we generally do not follow the numbers presented to us during pitches, blindly. Balanced news works best for us,” he added.

Advertisers have their own methods to choose platforms they want to advertise on. According to Partho Dasgupta, former CEO of BARC India, “Advertisers do their intra genre comparison when they invest in advertisements but at that point they have no control on the content. Later if they find the content inappropriate to work in tandem with the brand values they always have the option to withdraw their support.”

NBA President Rajat Sharma agrees that advertisers do look at brand safety when they invest in a platform.

“For advertisers, the environment where they are placing their brand is very important. This is where credibility, fairness and trust of the viewers comes in. Especially matters where somebody’s life, dignity or religious sentiment is involved, broadcasters’ as well as advertisers’ responsibility must be fixed. Even viewers in our country do not appreciate intimidation and harassment of people. A channel may succeed in drawing their attention through theatrics, but it is temporary,” Sharma noted.

Thus, for long-time deals and relations with advertisers, balanced news is still the way forward for many news channels.

"News for us is sacrosanct and that's the only thing we follow. Not agendas and directions. We believe our viewer is intelligent and wants to make up their own mind. Our effort is always to give him both sides of the story. To create an atmosphere that is conducive to informed discussion. There is definitely a place for entertainment, just not in news,” said Kalli Purie, Vice-Chairperson at the India Today Group

“By not understanding the difference between compelling storytelling and compulsive making up of stories, there is real damage to journalism, and the crucial role it plays. It also destroys a safe non-toxic environment for our viewers and advertisers to engage in. By the virtue of being in a contaminated abusive violent space a brand indirectly endorses it and I don't think that serves the long term objectives for anyone,” she added.

India Today, however, is not the only broadcaster in the category to eliminate sensationalism from their reportage. There are a host of others too.

According to Rajat Sharma, there should be a premium for fair news to encourage responsible reporting.

“I appreciate that in India, brands and advertisers have always respected and supported balanced news. Whenever a news channel has targeted individuals or tried to pursue an agenda with ulterior motives, it has not got the support from advertisers and media planners,” he said.

MK Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network shares: “We agree with the thought that there should be a disincentive to change the behaviour of news channels who are irresponsible and rely on distortion, drama and drive hidden agenda. And what better disincentive than a threat to reduce advertising? And if such channels are FTA, the impact will be felt even more. I don’t know if that explains the general increase in our ad volumes in the last couple of weeks. If that is indeed the reason, we are happy that our integrity and balance as a news network is getting rewarded this way.”

Reporting issues/ stories from different perspectives can also be done while maintaining a balance. Some broadcasters, ABP for instance, believe in the same.

 “Impartiality exists as one of the strongest pillars of ABP Network. It entails not just providing accurate news, but also reporting different positions on political issues fairly, by completely discarding one-sided haranguing. Some news channels speak truth to power, some do not. However, one should not put all of this content under the same category. We at ABP Network believe in the highest ethical standards of journalism and we strive to provide the best to our viewers, without turning towards incendiary rants to increase TRP,” said Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP Network.

But do ethical standards come in the way of their ad bills? “Time and again, we have provided our advertisers a good value for their advertising moolah and this shall always remain our earnest endeavour,” Pandey noted.

The jury is still out on the list of news channels that present balanced views.

News channels are polarized, said Deepak Sharma, Managing Director, North-Starcom MediaVest Group. While ratings keep changing and channels keep going up and down the top 5 charts, advertisers find the platform they can best align their brand values to.

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