Sponsors show trust in news genre despite ratings blackout; here’s why

Brands and experts say that they still rely on the news genre as it delivers the right audience in a cost-effective manner

e4m by Ruhail Amin & Tasmayee Laha Roy
Published: Dec 21, 2020 9:27 AM  | 4 min read

It has been over two months since BARC decided to suspend ratings for news TV. With no metric to go by, surprisingly, brands are still betting big on the genre. But the question is, what keeps them going?

In our quest to understand brand spends in this changed context, we spoke to news TV genre sponsors and other stakeholders to get a sense of how brands are continuing without ratings in place.

According to Meera Iyer, Business Unit Head at Dr Vaidya's (RPSG Group), most marketers with experience know that TV as a medium works best in building brands. That is not being questioned in this blackout says Iyer.

“Obviously not having ratings makes media planning less scientific. But the question is, how scientific was it if the allegations of tampering are true? Brands with advertising history are going back to analyse historical channel mixes and basing plans on that. There is a specific older TG that absolutely watches news and if your brand caters to them, it should still be part of your plan”, said Iyer.

Strategic Marketing & Media Consultant Chintamani Rao says that by and large the news genre is not bought on data. “Yes, you do look at the available data when you set about planning and buying, but its share of TV viewership is so small that it cannot be central to any but a very few media plans, and the genre-level decision cannot be data-driven. You buy news because in your judgment it enables you to heavy up against a particular target audience, adding reach, frequency or impact,” argues Rao.

“And channel-level decisions in the news genre are even more opinion-driven. You may remember how during the transition from TAM to BARC advertisers bought IPL without data. That was a huge amount money spent purely on judgement, driven by the FOMO factor. What makes this season particularly curious and interesting is the high share of the news genre, as much as 31%. So advertisers not only bought news without data, they actually bought more than usual. That comes from the belief in the salience of news in our lives today, and the fact that this season was a particularly a news-heavy period", he added.

A spokesperson for Badshah Masala, one of the leading advertisers on news channels, says that the ongoing blackout period has its pros and cons.

“It is certainly a challenge because there is no criterion or indicator to measure the popularity and viewership of any channel, so brands are working on intuition and reasonable assumptions. But that too can only last so long right? If, let’s say, the blackout period becomes permanent, brands can only rely on the popularity of the artist they associate with, the history of content viewership on the channel and the media channels they work with. It will all come down to the overall content consumption and likeability of the brand.”

Samaara Tea, which is again a big spender on news channels, says that brands are choosing channels based on prior knowledge and access to existing information.
“Sure, there are no ratings but by fair logic and reasoning, we think brands are choosing their channels and most of all, we think there’s been such a digital boon that businesses that don’t even come under MSME are moving towards digital advertising and publicity. The ones that do have media budgets for TV are going by perceptivity, or rather foreknowledge”, said its spokesperson.

However, Naresh Gupta, co-founder of Bang in the Middle, feels that this is a new challenge for channels, something that they had never prepared for.
“It’s also an opportunity as the advertisers will now choose a channel based on the preview equity and not just numbers. The numbers were doing a disservice as the channels were not investing enough in content. Now they are investing in building brand, and that is the new way to choose a news channel. In the long run that will become very important. Channel differentiation by brand perception will become a key component.”

Sharing the broadcasters’ perspective, Rabindra Narayan, MD & President, PTC Network, says that those having single news channels would surely be finding it tough.
“All buyers need to justify the numbers they are paying for and in the absence of zero TVR scenario, it definitely becomes a buyer's market. You may have viewership but then it's an opportunity for the brands to pin you down. The real issue is the long-term impact and how does a brand trust the numbers they are buying”, said Narayan.

“Majority brands are still using news and no major change is there that’s because news delivers right audience in a cost-effective manner”, underlined Varun Kohli, CEO of iTV Network.

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