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English news channels, where ratings really don’t matter

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English news channels, where ratings really don’t matter

The launch of CNN-IBN, followed by Times Now’s launch in 2006 marked a clear segregation between general news channels and business channels like CNBC TV-18 and NDTV Profit. Prior to this, a general news channel like NDTV 24x7 was competing with business channel CNBC TV-18, and with just a few other players like Headlines Today, CNN and BBC, there really was no competition between similar genre channels.

Looking at some of the numbers of the general news channels and the manner in which they have grown over the past few months, TAM Media Research shows that for the C&S 15+ AB in the metro markets, NDTV 24x7 has lost some ground. However, with an average of 50 per cent share of the English general news market, it doesn’t appear to be such a bad deal for the channel.

NDTV 24x7’s loss has been CNN-IBN’s gain. The channel has kept a steady 30 per cent average. It is interesting to note that every time the channel has seen a spike, NDTV 24x7 has seen a dip.

Another player that raised expectations was Times Now, however, in terms of numbers the channel doesn’t have much to offer, largely playing in the same vicinity as Headlines Today. However, an official communiqué from Times Now indicates that the channel has some good numbers to show, courtesy the ‘Prince’ coverage. Among the TG C&S 25 + Male, it even beats CNN-IBN.

The communiqué quoting Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Now, said, “With more news and more shows, Times Now is clearly winning the minds and hearts of viewers. It will continue to up the ante to build leadership in the market place.”

For Times Now, this is indeed an achievement and as media experts put it, when you get the numbers once, there is no stopping from getting it again. However, experts are quick to point out that in the case of English news channels, numbers really don’t matter. “You are talking of zero ratings – how can they matter? At least, Hindi news channels have some numbers to show,” said Nandini Dias, Vice-President, Lodestar Universal.

MindShare’s MD-West and South India, R Gowthaman, pointed out, “There are no numbers to show, but they play a role in providing a certain environment and context in which you want to catch the viewer and more importantly, English news channels do get male viewers, who are not present on any other channel.”

Presenting another point of view, The Media Edge’s Vice-President, Divya Radhakrishnan, believed that ratings could provide a direction. “When there is a channel that has been on a high for a long time or a show that you know is a sure shot winner like ‘We, The people’ or ‘The Big Fight’, you don’t think twice in investing in these programmes, because there is a brand in place already.”

So is brand more important than ratings? Radhakrishnan is quick to counter that. “If that was the case, CNN-IBN wouldn’t be getting the kind of numbers that it is getting and Times Now, with backing from brands like BCCL and Reuters, would have been settled from the word go,” she said.

For Dias, brand played a role, but she considered firsthand feedback as a key guidance in driving thought process in buying. According to her, “The thing about these channels is that the TG is the TG that is around you all the time. Sure, TAM has a booster to get the views of the upper class, but it really doesn’t give you the SEC A as it is. The feedback you get from people you know, what you feel comes in very handy. I’d say that unlike Hindi news channels, gut feel plays a very important role in English channels.”

Gowthaman places his bets on connectivity. He said, “It matters on whether the channel is placed in the first 10 channels or 15 channels. Many a times, the viewers’ tendency is not to tune in directly to any one channel but to see whatever comes first. If he is bored, he may move on, but chances are that he may find the same coverage on the other channels as well.”

Media experts are clear that English news channels can be used for two purposes – build frequency and offer a certain reach and to catch the elite male TG in an environment that high-end, male oriented brands want them. They also don’t hesitate in pointing out that a plan may do away with one of the channels, but would largely look at taking two channels. Ratings may be the currency for many decisions, but English news channels are one sector where they really don’t seem to matter.


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