Weekly cumulative reach of Network18 news channels likely to grow by 20-25%: Avinash Kaul

Avinash Kaul, CEO – Television News, Network18, spoke to exchange4media about the programming strategy, keeping the news flow going with the staggered workforce, the advertising scenario and more

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Apr 7, 2020 8:11 AM
Avinash Kaul

TV viewership is soaring by the day but is that reflecting on ad bills? Perhaps not. In spite of unprecedented viewership numbers, television news media is putting up a brave front to deal with staggered workforce on one side and low advertiser sentiment on the other.  

In a chat with exchange4media, Avinash Kaul, CEO – Television News, Network18, spoke about the current situation, the challenges brought in by the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown, and the way ahead.

Edited excerpts:

We have seen unprecedented growth in viewership numbers for the news genre. Do you think the trend will continue for some time now? What kind of surge in viewership are you expecting?

The country has been in lockdown since March 25 and the viewership data released by BARC India for Week 12 covers three days of the lockdown and the Janta Curfew day. Looking at the growth in daily reach numbers post complete lockdown, TV’s weekly cumulative reach is definitely going to go up. News, as a genre, has witnessed unprecedented growth as compared to other genres due to availability of more fresh and live content and also the drying up of new content on GEC channels.

Therefore, we expect the weekly cumulative reach of the news genre to go up further by 10-15% and the growth percentage of Network18 news channels to be better than that of the rest in the genre. We are expecting the weekly cumulative reach of Network18 news channels to grow further by 20-25%. We are planning more viewer-centric news programmes to keep our viewers engaged and informed about the pandemic.

Tell us a little about the special programming plans for the period.

The change in viewership pattern and the situation of the external environment calls for innovation in programming too. Since an increasing number of people are watching news for COVID-19 updates, we are providing helplines to ensure that the viewers have information on their fingertips. We are providing counselling through doctors, helping viewers to separate fact from fiction and allaying general fears of the public.

We have a special programming line-up of shows providing healthcare and fitness tips to help viewers be better equipped to deal with the lockdown. The CNBC cluster has been focusing on analysing the economic impact of the pandemic and is sharing opinions daily on how best to manage one’s funds at a time like this.

CNN-News18 has lined up a set of special programmes — Corona Warriors, Corona Files, Corona Control Room and Doctor Call-in. These programmes deal with stories of survivors, provide regular update on the number of cases, positive developments and the global perspective. We have also set up a Corona control room to help viewers get answers to questions they have regarding the disease. So you see the focus is on engaging viewers and bringing to them all the information they need to survive the lockdown. The special focus is on positive news and stories of achievements when the environment outside is showing dismal growth.

News18 India did special shows on Ram Navmi to keep in with the festive spirit. And through ‘Khabar Pakki Hai’, the channel has attempted to give clarity on myths and fake news related to the outbreak that have been doing rounds on social media. So, our focus is to educate and break the myths. Across 26 states, our channels have been able to bring hyper-local news, highlight stories of despair and courage, and maintain a balanced view of the situation.

With some part of the newsroom working from home and an overall staggered workforce, how are you keeping the system afloat? What are you doing for the safety of the employees?

We have taken a very humane approach in dealing with this global crisis, as people are at the heart of what we do. We have grave concerns for our talent pool and we are committed to stand by them, while ensuring that our responsibility towards our 70 crore viewers is not compromised. While we have brought about new working protocols and offered flexibility to our employees, our editorial teams are working round the clock and from different locations to stay on top of the COVID-19 story. I am proud to say that the courage and tenacity of our frontline reporters is laudable.

As an organization, we are most concerned about the safety and well-being of our workforce. We are committed to keeping the Network18 Group Covid-free and providing all assistance to our colleagues and their families. To facilitate that, a Corona Response Team has been created within the organization. Our HR and admin teams have been working tirelessly to keep a tab on all the employees’ health through a unique self-declaring tool called symptom tracker that has been made accessible to all employees. I am once again proud to announce that we have been successfully operating all our channels and digital properties because of an elaborate business continuity plan that we put in place well in advance and which is being updated in real time.

In normal 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?

Advertising in April has seen a slow start for sure but one has to compare it in the context of a pre-existing slowdown in the economy, end of a financial year with plans of new fiscal being made and different ways of working through online apps. It takes time for things to adjust to the new way of working and we are already seeing a lot of interest by various advertisers who are looking at various creative ways of reaching out to audiences. New creatives by clients aren’t coming in and some old creatives might not fit in with the current scenario. Hence, we at Network18 have started actively engaging with clients to help them with creative solutions to gain from the huge ratings upsurge that news is seeing. We remain optimistic about the days ahead.

There have been talks of suspending TV ratings. Your views.

Covid-19 is a global phenomenon but nowhere in the world has the ratings data been stopped, except that based on the diary method. We've been assured by BARC that their ratings collection mechanism is electronic and doesn't need manual intervention, and hence doesn't pose a health risk. Under such circumstances it doesn't make any sense to abandon measurement when viewership of that medium is the highest. Digital measurement and TV measurement is safe too and doesn’t involve health risks. Advertisers and programmers have a right to know what's working and what's not.

The network is also putting together a lot of other initiatives to support and help those affected in the crisis. Tell us a little about that.

We have launched #IndiaGives, a campaign to financially support the country’s most vulnerable citizens during the lockdown. As a first step, the over 6,000 employees of the Network18 Group have contributed a day’s salary to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, to be used to provide succour to daily-wage workers whose livelihoods have been affected due to the shutdown. A key differentiator of our campaign is that it is editorial-led, with our journalists championing them and our programming also reflecting that. This adds a great deal of credibility to it. With a reach of 19 crore people daily, it is imperative that we take a bold step towards the cause of social good.

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