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NewsNext 2010: Ratings are important, but responsibility is far greater – Rajat Sharma

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NewsNext 2010: Ratings are important, but responsibility is far greater – Rajat Sharma

NewsNext 2010 brought together several well-known names from the news television and advertising industry under one roof to engage in some scintillating conversation. The day-long conclave was held in Delhi on September 1, 2010. Speakers included heavyweights like Rajat Sharma, Barkha Dutt, Jehangir Pocha, Arnab Goswami, Maheshwar Peri, Sandeep Lakhina, and Shashi Shekhar, among many others. Star Majha was the associate sponsor, while PTC News was the session sponsor.

The conclave commenced with an introductory speech by Anurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4Media Group. Giving his observations on the news television industry, Batra said that about eight years’ back, the size of the news and advertising pie was not more than Rs 150-175 crore. “We did a forum to estimate this amount in the present day and we anticipated it to be around Rs 750 crore. Most were sceptical about the figure that we quoted and said that our estimate was too generous. Today, this number stands at Rs 1,500-1,600 crore,” he remarked.

Batra outlined three challenges going forward – credibility of news across English, Hindi and regional news channels. Secondly, the yield of news is going down. This means that the cost at which news is being gathered is growing and how to bring this down. Thirdly, how can national level news channels break into regional markets.

Conversation versus action: Rationale of the Indian news television industry

The introductory speech was followed by a very insightful session with Rajat Sharma, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India TV, whom Batra engaged in a no holds barred conversation.

Sharma talked about a new trend that was gaining ground nowadays in the news industry sphere, which was that everyone was making a scapegoat of the news industry and blaming them for blowing everything out of proportion.

He noted, “A few days back, I was recording a programme with Salman Khan, and he told me that there were a lot of natural and man-made disasters plaguing the world and our country, but that somehow how never gets covered at all, and all that you people show is Katrina Kaif!”

Sharma further said that Wednesday mornings were anxiously awaited as TAM results were declared on that day. Citing the TAM results that were out on September 1, 2010 Sharma proudly exclaimed that India TV had truly achieved something. “Fourteen of the top 20 programmes are of India TV. Furthermore, most of them are news programmes,” he aded. This is truly reflective of the change that Sharma was earlier speaking about. According to him, this change came about after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and how people believed that the news channels had actually worsened an already bad situation by showing live feeds and images on TV channels, aiding the terrorists indirectly.

“Before 26/11, we were always trying to outshine each other as news channels and there was never any communication amongst us. But post the attacks we realised that we needed to cooperate with other channels and interact on a regular basis. This is a tremendous change,” he pointed out.

He explained further by way of an example. “Raj Thackeray was always seen on TV vandalising property and destroying hoardings, etc. We believed that it was sponsored. They would call up news channels beforehand and tell them what they were going to do and the channels would scramble to cover it. We decided on a common basis (all the news channels) that we will not show this going forward,” Sharma said. He asserted that there would be no compromise on principles in the days to come as there had been a lot of self introspection by news channels in the last year and a half.

Engaging Sharma in a conversation, Batra asked, “You play the dual role of an editor and an entrepreneur. The objective of both roles is to maximise revenue. At times there are situations when the objectives clash. Which one of the two roles then do you give more importance to?” To this, Sharma replied that in such scenarios, the editor came out triumphant. “This usually results in loss of revenue, but principles win over revenue. For example, when 26/11 happened, there were live feeds happening 24x7, and for three full days, no ads were shown on news channels. One can imagine what a loss of revenue the channels incurred. This can only happen in television and not in print,” he added.

Sharma further noted that though there were enough drivers and leaders at the top of different news channels, there was lack of talent at the third and fourth levels, and this needed to be addressed urgently. He said that talent hunts were not a good way of getting good talent and added that several schools and institutes offering courses in TV reporting were shams.

“What must be done is that TV channels should give on the job training under the leadership of the leaders who have led by example,” he pointed out. On being asked what should youngsters, who were striving to become like leaders of today, do to stick out, Sharma replied that they should closely study the contribution and the work of the leaders of the news industry. “Viewers will love you when they have faith in you and find you credible. The biggest point to remember is that ratings are important, but responsibility is far greater,” Sharma concluded.

( will carry more news on the NewsNext 2010 sessions tomorrow, September 3, 2010, as well. Do log in.)

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