TV9 News Network is No. 1 in terms of viewership in India: Barun Das

In a conversation with exchange4media, Barun Das, CEO, TV9 News Network, talks about the new avatar of News9 as a digital national English news platform and more     

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: Apr 29, 2020 9:28 AM  | 7 min read
Barun Das

While news consumption has seen an exponential growth during the on-going lockdown, TV9 Bharatvarsh has doubled its market share in this period. Barun Das, CEO, TV9 News Network, tells us how the recent re-launch and lockdown has expedited the growth of the one-year old Hindi news channel, TV9 Bharatvarsh, the strong performance of its regional channels, TV9 Kannada, TV9 Telugu, TV9 Gujarati and TV9 Marathi.

Das also lays down the company’s future plans - expansion to large regional markets in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu; scaling up and expanding its operations and the reinvention of News9 from a Bangalore-based English news channel to a digital national English news platform.

Edited excerpts:

How would you assess the performance of the TV9 Network during the lockdown?

During the lockdown phase our network has outgrown the industry rate. TV9 Kannada and TV9 Telugu have remained head and shoulders above competition as ever, while TV9 Gujarati and TV9 Marathi have a permanent place at the top of the pile. However, our unparalleled growth story has been with TV9 Bharatvarsh. In the last five weeks, our market share has more than doubled, from about 4% before the lockdown to 8.7% at present (Week 15), and is amongst the top-10 Hindi channels. If you look at the Hindi news genre, the stacking was like the top six channels and then the bottom six - with a significant gap in between the two groups. We are now very close to the top six, which is what you may call the big league. It is worth mentioning here that TV9 Bharatvarsh is just a year-old, whereas the leaders in this genre are big legacy brands.

Where have you seen the growth coming from - urban or rural?

Our growth is more or less balanced. When you double your market share, the growth has to be homogenous across all markets, across time-bands. We have seen significant growth in urban markets as well. However, the growth in our national channel, TV9 Bharatvarsh is slightly skewed to rural.

TV9 Bharatvarsh was launched last year in March and the channel was recently relaunched. Tell us more about that.

We re-branded and re-launched TV9 Bharatvarsh and changed the content orientation, the FPC, look and feel of the channel just before the lockdown. We had a very aggressive and innovative 360-degree marketing plan worked out. We had to scale it back due the lockdown, hold our marketing plans of Print, OOH and Radio and instead focus our marketing on Digital and Television platforms. So, the re-launch with a new look, new content and innovative marketing has worked for the channel. More people could sample the channel at this time, therefore both reach and the time spent have gone up.  The lockdown has expedited our growth. 

What is your current reach and time spent for the channel? 

Our reach has been around 45-46 million. Now, we have peaked at around 122 million (week 13) and are holding at around 120 million for TV9 Bharatvarsh, that’s more than 2.5 times growth in reach. The time spent has also grown by about 45% during this period. 

There has been a drop in advertisers on TV. How can TV news channels leverage the increase seen in viewership?

The genre could not leverage this unprecedented growth in viewership in terms of advertisers. The issue now is that there is no call-for-action for any advertiser. FMCG, and e-commerce digital-based products are the ones who are currently advertising. Post Covid-19, all sectors of the economy will have a new base, somewhere around 25% below the current base. However, looking ahead, the news genre would be relatively better placed to leverage their position than the other TV genres and even other mediums such as newspapers. Traditionally, FMCGs do not look at News TV as a preferred medium, but going forward FMCGs will probably look at the news genre with more interest.

Currently, the inventory is low because the number of advertisers is less.  Once the lockdown is lifted, companies will have to move their stocks and we will see seasonal advertisers like fans, coolers, ACs, colas etc., start to spend and resume activities. We will then be able to recover some of the losses which have happened during the past two months. 

Would this then lead to an increase in ad rates for news channels, which are currently under-indexed?   

Under normal circumstances, my response would have been that the rate for an industry is not a function of any individual company. If it can be ascribed to any individual it should be the leader. If the leader asks and gets the right price, then the rest of the industry will also get the right price. Alternatively, the industry will have to come together and try to increase the rates.

However, post COVID-19 every individual and industry’s fate would depend on how closely everyone is coming together to tide over this unprecedented crisis. The philosophy would be collaborate not compete.

We, as News TV industry, will not start flexing our muscles because of this viewership growth to gain rate increase.  We - the brand custodians and media - will have to be on the same side for mutual benefit. I am sure advertisers will see value in us and we also need to ensure their return on investment with us. 

I feel, now the concept of ‘TEAM’ comes in to play – TEAM as in Together Everyone Achieves More – not only in our industry but across the world for all sectors.

How do you look at the revenue for the coming quarter and for the year?

The future is very uncertain for the world. It depends on two factors - how quickly we come out of this lockdown and how quickly the world recovers from it. The projected GDP growth rate for India and China has been slashed to 1.9% and 1.2% respectively, while the rest of the world will most likely de-grow. There would be serious pressure on advertising revenue as spends get cut during a recession. However, advertising is mostly not expense but an investment. There would be dip in advertising, but we, as a genre, will be slightly better off compared to all others.

Looking ahead, what can we expect from TV9 Network?

Currently, we are the number 1 news network in the country in viewership terms. If we look at impressions for week 15, the TV9 network is 654.7 million Impressions, ZEE Network is 579.3 million Impressions, ABP Network is 540.8 million Impressions, News18 Network is 479.8 million Impressions.

We had an aggressive expansion plan to build on what we have established. We had plans to expand to potentially large regional markets in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. However, we will have to go back to the drawing board and look at an opportune time post COVID-19 for our regional expansion. If every crisis is equally a great opportunity, for TV9 Network that opportunity is in the digital space. We are absolutely clear about the need to scale up our digital operations, simply because digital is the future. This crisis has given us the perfect opportunity to accelerate those plans with greater conviction. As a result, we are starting on our digital expansion across the network. All our regional channels and Bharatvarsh will be beefing up their digital teams as they prepare to engage more deeply with their viewers on multiple platforms.    

Another big move we are making concerns News9. It has done a tremendous job of building its franchise over the last 11 years as the leading English news channel in Karnataka. But, clearly, there are greater opportunities that it can tap into at the national level. However, English television news has been steadily losing revenue and viewership over the recent years, as more and more advertising rupees have gone after regional language news and digital as a platform. As a result, News9 is going in for a big reinvention; it is going to transform itself into a digital national English news platform. The work on it will begin immediately. 

Our digital nerve centre of English and Hindi language offerings will be Delhi for which we would soon start building the required infrastructure. In the interim, work on English digital products will commence in Bangalore with talent drawn from the existing News9 team. 

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