NEWSNEXT 2021: 'Credibility is the best business model for news channels'
Media experts deliberated on rising noise levels becoming a factor in deciding the success of TV news channels today
At the NewsNext 2021 Annual Conference, the first discussion was centred on a pressing topic of today's times -- is the noise factor that we see on TV an outcome of its current business model? The topic was 'Reducing The Noise in TV News?' The panel delved into the conversation moderated by Arunima, Deputy Editor, CNN News 18 and Priya Sehgal, News X; Varun Kohli, CEO, ITV; and Priti Chaudhary, India Today were among the panellists.
Sehgal, who believed that presently there's too much noise than news on TV, said that TV behaved most responsibly last year during the lockdown. She said, “We were the only source of news, whether it was talking to people whose lives were affected or being the best source of information. No drama; just information.”
Sehgal also delved into the handling of the Sushant Singh Rajput Case. She said, “When the case happened, television has never been at its lowest than it was at that point. When we want to we can behave responsibly, and we've shown that we could, but somehow we don't. And why don't we do that? It has a lot to do with the TRP business. The TRP scam has exposed how these ratings are manipulated, showing that the way to measure TRPs is also not adequate enough. In the end, the whole system is flawed because we've told that those channels that make the most noise get the most TRPs and get the most ads and hence that is the model all of us are to follow. I hope it's time to bring conversation and real issues back on the news agenda.”
Taking the discussion ahead, Chaudhary shared, “Viewers would want information and not sensationalism but having said that I don't think we're solely responsible for it. It's not just the channels, there is an audience ready to lap up sensationalism, the noise, the no-news noise, TRP or no TRP. As much we are to be blamed, people who watch us are to be blamed as well. The change has to be collective and it has to come from the society as well.”
The Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) suspended the TV ratings of the news channels due to the ongoing scam. The blackout period began in mid-October last year which continued till today.
Giving a management perspective, Kohli explained, “People are discarding the angry people who come on screen shout and go. A lot of news channels are plugging of mics of guys who have been shouting on news channels. It's a welcome relief because pandemic has really caused a lot of stress to all of us so we don't want to go to television. The second paradigm shift is that the screens are changing. There is OTT and Digital which gives you a lot of feedback, and the new age viewers don't want noise at all.”
He added, “They want newer things served to them, and that is why videos especially on the web which don't have any noise are doing very well. Now the TRP going off for some time, the focus is back on content because it's the content that is the king. We have not lost much revenue after BARC stopped giving ratings; it shows that people have believed in the content we air. We are in a genre, where our advertiser is also our viewer. The problem was the ratings, advertisers and the pressure but over the last year since the time pandemic happened, a lot of things have changed as the management and editorial have set together and came to the point that we want to create a world-class product. In the next 10 years, the screens will be multiples, so if you have to go to multiple platforms, we have to engage in content, which is good for all.”
Arunima further spoke about the unity among the news channels. She said that the news industry has a National Broadcasters Association (NBA) but there have been organizations who have chosen to leave NBA when they were penalized or they were attempts to hold them accountable. “We don't want government control or judicial control; we want to ensure that the control is in our hands, but if there is no agreement within the news industry about what is noise and how do you control it. Is there a way forward?" she asked.
Giving farmer protest example, Sehgal mentioned, “What farmers did was a huge wake-up call for the entire media industry. Certain people walk out of the NBA; they wanted to form their own parallel body. Maybe we should look for people outside of Governors like retired judges or editors. We need to find someone that everybody agrees on, and that's never going to be easy.”
Taking the discussion to the end, Arunima raised the important questions of whether the noise factor is a result of the business model.
Kohli mentioned that there are a lot of shows where there is no noise but still attract a lot of ratings. “There is no specific answer to it. I have seen a lot of channels with no noise. When channels switch off the mic of a person who's shouting, it's a welcoming change. Things are changing and evolving to a large extent. Thanks to pandemic news on television has come back to prominence. We as an industry body have to come together on how do we need to progress towards a particular goal.”
“All boils down to really to the credibility and the best model is the credibility. If the industrialists themselves start giving revenues to responsible channels that will help with building up credible media also the farmers already put us (media) on notice. So I think the bottom line is credibility and that comes from within,” Sehgal concluded.
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