New Delhi: Confirming anecdotal suspicions in recent years, a new study of Indian television news says that at least Hindi news is no longer dominated by politics. Instead, crime and Bollywood gossip have taken centre stage.
More than half the news on Hindi news channels in 2007 had to do with entertainment, sports, human interest, or crime, up from 28% in 2005. The share of politics on such channels declined from 23% in 2005 to 10% in 2007.
The study was conducted by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), an independent non-profit research organization, which picked six Hindi news channels as its sample. News is among the most-watched categories on television in the country and Hindi news channels command higher ratings than their English language counterparts.
“The TRP (television rating point, which reflects the percentage of people watching a particular programme at a given time) menace has hijacked the agenda of news channels,” CMS chairman N. Bhaskar Rao said. “While it is good that the stronghold of political news is declining, what is replacing it is crime and Bollywood gossip.”
According to Rao, the coverage given to “important social and developmental issues” hasn’t changed. They “got marginal coverage” then, and get the same now, he said.
Rising competition, which is forcing news channels to try and be different, and changing viewer preferences are responsible for this.
The number of news channels has grown from 24 in 2004 to 43 in 2007, according to a report by MindShare Insights, the research arm of leading media buying agency MindShare.
English news channels have invested in producing travel, cooking, and lifestyle shows “that cater to...the new Indian middle class,” said Mangesh Pawar, business group head, Mindshare Insights. “In the Hindi news space, fiercecompetition has led to the blurring of lines between fact and fiction.”
The shares of Hindi, English and business news channels in the total TV viewership in 2007 were 13%, 2% and 2%, respectively. The share of Hindi channels declined by a percentage point from 2006, while English viewership grew by the same amount. Business news channels retained their share. And, unlike in print, ad rates for Hindi news channels are higher than those for their English counterparts.
According to Shyam Shanker, president of Indian Media Exchange, a media buying house, a 10-second ad spot on a typical Hindi news channel costs Rs1,500-1,700; on English news channels, a similar spot would cost between Rs1,200 and Rs1,500.
Advertisers aren’t unhappy at this growing mix of a little politics and lots of human interest, crime, sports and entertainment. According to Mindshare, in the 11 months to November, total ad spend on news channels across languages was Rs110 crore, up from Rs63 crore back in 2004.
The study showed that, unlike general entertainment programmes, news is still predominantly watched by men. The target audience for most news channels continues to be men in the age group of 25-44 years.
Accordingly, news channels attract advertisement from brands targeting men. Telecom, auto, mutual funds and insurance companies were the predominant advertisers on news channels last year, a Mindshare report said.
“A sound business strategy at the end of the day is consistently high quality journalism. Advertisers don’t measure you only based on numbers. The perception and influence matters,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, an English news channel. Global Broadcast News Ltd, the company that runs CNN-IBN, also has a Hindi news channel, IBN-7.
“Hindi news is a mass market, and there numbers matter more than anything else,” conceded Sardesai.