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News channels all set to rock the boat: Experts

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News channels all set to rock the boat: Experts

If one thought 2003 was big for the news segment, think again. Growth wise, the most popular of all niche genres should only see more in 2004 – more share, more dare and more competition to beware. The year holds a lot in store, with new channels coming up, existing channels establishing themselves, and planners sure about the segment’s growth. But as always, there’s a catch.

2003 meant accentuated competition for news channels. In came the concept of full-fledged English news channels. The news market was hot and given relevant target, the heat was registered as growth in ratings. Explaining this, says Punitha Arumugam, CEO, Madison Media (West), “The news segment has significantly grown and 2004 holds similar promise. Whether you look at channel shares or TVRs, the segment has drawn more eyeballs.”

She compares the TAM Media Research December 2002 data with that of December 2003 for the target CS SEC ABC 15+, for the core Hindi speaking market of Mumbai, Delhi, rest of Maharashtra and U.P. The share of news channels for all days has increased from a 5.1 per cent in 2002 to 6.9 per cent in 2003, a growth index of 136. Even the TVR has increased from 0.49 to 0.70, an improvement index of 143.

“There are various components that have grown and that in totality has lifted the segment,” comments G Krishnan, Executive Director and CEO, TV Today Network. “Since these components are growing, news will only look better in 2004. There is SEC AB viewership growth. If you take age groups, there is growth in youngsters coming on news channels and an increase of viewers in same city itself.”

He adds, “From 18 million, we are now generating 25 million eyeballs every week. So the number of new eyeballs have grown by almost 5 per cent, the number of minutes a viewer stays has grown and since the economy is growing, there is even an increase in the number of TV sets.”

Matching this optimism, Ravina Raj Kohli, President, Star News remarks, “The viewership growth is strong and news has the highest potential of growth. We are looking at a very steady growth this year. The general state of consumer affairs and information has become more relevant and this being a national election year will only add to the growth line. There are various genres developing in news itself and so what a news channel provides today is definitely news and more, hence attracting that many more people.”

The news genre did manage to accommodate many new players from NDTV to DD News and Sahara. But the viewership base is still very limited. Now with CNBC floating two new channels, SAB TV coming with a current affairs channel, talks of Zee Biz, and a channel from Bennett and Coleman raises the question of viability with so many players in the field.

“From a viewer perspective, there is room for more news channels,” replies Jasmin Sohrabji, Sr Vice President, MediaCom. “But viewers will seek the news channel that best represents their views and sentiments.”

However, given this relatively small size of news viewing pie, can so many channels afford to exist? She observes, “The viewer base will be further fragmented, resulting in lower TVRs. This will affect the ad revenue generating capability of the channels. Over time, cost and rate rationalisation will allow the strong and competent to survive. The rest will need to make hard calls.” Arumugam states, “It is going to be the survival of the fittest.”

One interesting aspect that planners bring forth is that they don’t expect a change in the news scenario itself. Both Arumugam and Sohrabji opine that the number one position will remain static. Sohrabji extends it to two more positions saying that NDTV and Star News too will continue to hold their viewer base.

So while the niche will grow, the growth will be interplay from within these three to five channels itself. Says Sohrabji, “There has been a growth of 'news viewing' audiences, but going forward, growth will come from within. News channels need to focus on consolidation of what they have built. If they seek higher figures, they should focus on interesting formats and programming within the news genre rather than just news.”

On how they see English news channels develop, Arumugam says, “English news is still very niche. They haven’t really entered the ratings game and they are unlikely to do so in 2004 as well. English channels are more for imagery and to reach the premium SECs.”

But Krishnan has a different picture of the future. According to him, English news channel is a concept that the Indian audience is getting used to. Says he, “English speaking audience now depend on newspapers. But the news scenario will tilt in the manner that newspapers will get more localised and this audience will turn to news channels for their feed of news and views. This may take a while but that is a change that we will see.”

Looking at more figures, English news channels did register increase in cumulative reach in 2003. Considering the target group C&S, SEC ABC, Males 25+ for the markets of Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai, the reach has grown from 17 per cent in January 2003 to 20 per cent in June further increasing to 34 per cent in December 2003. The base viewer being anyone who watches the channel for more than five minutes indicates the loyalty level as well.

With the national election, budget and news channels developing their programming further, 2004 will offer a sizzling play as compared to 2003. Aaj Tak is planning more on its weekend programming and looking at augmenting its resources further; Star News is working towards special programming responding to changes and trends; DD news has lined up an action plan already and there are many more channels and ideas in the pipeline. With the given viewership base, it will indeed be the survival of the fittest.


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