The role of established media is now more important than ever: Kalli Purie

Purie, the Vice-Chairperson of the India Today Group, discusses burgeoning viewership, TV ratings, and programming plans in the times of COVID-19 in a chat with e4m

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Apr 14, 2020 9:13 AM
Kalli Purie

The COVID-19 crisis has brought the nation to its knees, as India went into a complete lockdown exactly three weeks ago. It’s a time when news as a genre is going through a difficult time where media houses are struggling to keep their employees safe on one hand and ensure that news reporting goes on as usual on the other. However, even in the wake of the crisis, television news has seen a huge surge in viewership. Thanks to efforts taken by media houses to plan content according to the need of the hour, viewers have been tuning in to news channels more frequently, making the viewership numbers shoot through the roof.

 Joining exchange4media today to discuss the burgeoning viewership amid coronavirus crisis, TV ratings, programming plans and more is Kalli Purie, Vice Chairperson, India Today Group. 

Edited excerpts:  

We have seen unprecedented growth in viewership numbers for the news genre -- Aaj Tak, India Today TV -- and TV at large. Do you think the trend will continue for some time now? What kind of surge in viewership are you expecting in the coming weeks?

Yes, the numbers have been heartening. When you have many team members on the front lines, these numbers are a really a boost to their morale and validates their hard work under high risk. The surges in viewership is on account of the desperate need for credible information. As much as a pandemic, we are also suffering from an infodemic. The role of established media has never been more important. It’s taken a pandemic to remind people that the role of the media is an essential service.

Aaj Tak’s historic 290 million audiences over the lockdown weeks and India Today TV’s toppling of the erstwhile leader on English news confirm that the audience trusts our brand of journalism. When it is a matter of life and death, the audience doesn’t want debates and entertainment masquerading as news. They want information from around the world.

Our lineage and pedigree of anchors have ensured that we present a spectrum of global doctors, epidemiologists, economists, virologist to even astronauts. 

Broadcasters are adding doses of infotainment in their content. Tell us a little about the special programming plans for the period?

A little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down, that’s the approach to our coronavirus coverage. If we keep the coverage unilaterally on the virus, it can become quite daunting for the audience who are experiencing an unprecedented lockdown. It’s importantly to pepper the coverage with slice of life stories.

As coronavirus has changed so much about all our way of life from WFH protocols to virtual house parties to corona cuts.  People wanted to feel connected and not alone in these trying times. By bringing to the audiences voices from the lockdown, we want people to know we are all together in this fight against the virus.

 

With some part of the newsroom working from home and an overall staggered workforce what are the challenges you are facing to keep the system afloat?

The situation is challenging but it has also shown us how things can be done differently. Very often, routine sets in a way that it becomes very difficult to break. An emergency like this forces people to innovate and do things differently as there is no choice.  I have been amazed at the innovation in our own working over the last three weeks.  

In ordinary circumstances, such ratings would have been bliss for ad bills but given the market sentiments, not many brands are upbeat about advertising. How are you dealing with that? What is your appeal to advertisers? 

In a time like this, our focus is to ensure that we fulfil our responsibility and promise to the viewer. Everything else comes second. Especially important when social media is flooded with fake news. Some advertisers’ businesses are badly hit while others are taking off. So it’s a mixed bag. We work with our advertisers as partners through this tough time, finding ways to help one another.

We are finding innovative ways to bring non-traditional brands to TV and we have been reasonably successful in enabling a much higher ROI for our existing partners. I think having leadership in digital and social with our TV brands, we are able to offer advertisers very effective combo deals.  

 There have been talks of suspending TV ratings; what are your views on it?

I think this is self-defeating.  Why would we want to suspend ratings? These are important times for news channels for benchmarking. In week 13, as against pre-COVID-19 period, TV viewership has grown by 43% and news category has grown by 251%. Imagine not having a barometer that tells you about such a sea change. Plus, I believe, in spite of very difficult conditions, we should try and emulate business as usual as much as we can.

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