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The ‘comedification’ of news or race for TRPS – Whither goest the news?

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The ‘comedification’ of news or race for TRPS – Whither goest the news?

Serious news viewers might balk at bizarre / funny / silly incidents making their way into news bulletins, but they do earn those precious TRPs for news channels. Otherwise what would explain those sundry reports on sightings of ‘bhoot prets’ (with accompanying appropriate sound effects), or the recent report of a small town kid speaking in an American accent, making their way into even prime time news bulletins.

True, they make people chuckle, discuss it in the office canteen and then forget all about it. And what do the news channels get out of them? Of course, substantial ad revenues on the day of ‘breaking’ the news, along with a fair amount of displeasure of the discerning viewers.

Take the instance of a lady claiming to be Abhishek Bachchan’s wife amid the intense media frenzy over the ‘Bollywood wedding of the year’. Why did she wait till the wedding to raise her voice when the AbhiAsh pair was splashed all over the place for quite some time? More curious, why did TV channels even pay her any attention, leave alone giving her quite some air time? It seems that such content are sometimes ‘cooked up’ nicely and served as ‘news content’, and what’s more, lapped up eagerly by viewers as well. Such news items do sell and grab eyeballs, whether one likes it or not.

So the question here is – what is news? How does one categorise ‘news’ as news?

An interesting thing to note here is that with shows like these TRPs of channels airing them have shot up, thumbing a nose at channels that have refused to jump into the fray.

While a splash of humour or even biting satire lends some relief in between news bulletins, comedy becoming a part and parcel of news channels is surprising. Yet comedy has been resorted to extensively by news channels to drive their TRPs and increase viewership base. A case in point is Raju Srivastav’s stand up comedy shows on Aaj Tak, and followed by others, which have led to debate within the media fraternity. Slowly and steadily, most news channels have adopted this, and are looking forward to introducing more such shows. Channels are using comedy to ‘cover up’ for dull days when there is no major news.

But can comedy be categorised as news? Yes, it can be, according to some experts, who say that it can revolve around news, only making sense if it is in the context of the news.

Harish Doraiswamy, CEO, Zee News, raises a valid point. “Why are people not pointing fingers at print publications and online portals? Newspapers have cartoon sections, while Internet portals have fun related content which, according to a few, can’t be categorised as news. I think the definition of news is a very subjective matter, and all news channels should be given the liberty to categorise any content that they think is news,” he argues, adding, “At the current juncture, we don’t have shows based on comedy, but that doesn’t mean we won’t use it in future.”

Ashutosh, Managing Director, IBN 7, opines that stand-up comedy on news channels doesn’t hamper the channels’ reputation as it claims to be a full-fledged news channels. “I agree that stand-up comedians don’t fit into the news genre. But that doesn’t mean news channels can’t use them. Everybody enjoys comedy. If done in an appropriate manner, I don’t think it affects the reputation of the news channel,” he maintains.

However, it is not good for news channels if they have a comedy show running at a time when the competition has some news at its disposal. “It indeed looks bad when you air comedy at a time when competitors have breaking news. The reputation of any channel can go for a toss, if this happens. But I can’t recollect any such instance in the past,” says Ashutosh.

It might be recalled that Aaj Tak on several occasions has used stand-up comedians on their channel. G Krishnan, Business Head and CEO, Aaj Tak, defends the move saying, “It always pays to have variety on your channel. You have to keep your viewer engaged, and the viewer is not always looking for hard news.” He further says variety gives viewers a definite reason to stick around with the channel and not get bored with watching the same kind of shows and news throughout the day.

English news channels have so far mostly stayed away from comedy shows, with the exception of ‘That Week That Wasn’t’ by Cyrus Broacha on CNN-IBN.

The bottomline is simple – it is all about the game of catching more eyeballs against maintaining the class and integrity towards delivering relevant and high quality news for the more discerning viewers.


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