New Delhi: After struggling for at least two years, Times Now, the English news channel owned by Times Global Broadcasting Co. Ltd (TGBCL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), has finally made it to the top. Data from TAM Media Research, the Mumbai-based television audience measurement agency, says Times Now has been the No. 1 English news channel among male viewers aged 25 years and above, and in markets with at least one million population, since July.In an interview, TGBCL chief executive Chintamani Rao, however, says the channel has yet to break even.
Bottom line: TGBCL’s Rao says distribution is the single biggest cost component today, accounting for about 30-40% of total expenses. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Meanwhile, TGBCL’s new business channel, ET Now, is all set for a launch before June. Rao says the channel will focus on breaking news like its print counterpart The Economic Times, the largest selling English business daily published by BCCL. Mint, published by HT Media Ltd, competes with ET.
Also the chairman of Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc), an industry body set up to measure the country’s TV audience, Rao talks about the reasons behind the delays in kicking off work at the council. He says it will take Barc “at least a couple of years” before it becomes fully functional. Edited excerpts:
What has been the strategy behind the turnaround at Times Now?
When Times Now started, it was a clear let down, especially after all the noise created around the launch. People said, ‘Times (Group) will never make it on TV’. But then, I think people started recognizing the difference in the content being provided by us. In keeping with our tagline, “Always With the News”, the channel mainly focuses on news against features and talk shows.
It airs a news bulletin every 30 minutes. According to TAM (Media Research), 80% of our 24-hour programme comprises news bulletins whereas for NDTV (24X7, rival channel), it is about 55%. News is news and not much can be different about it, but this break-up gives us the clear and stark difference in offerings.
Times Now is now a three-year-old channel. Has it turned profitable?
We have not broken even yet. We cannot be profitable for the next three years. Realistically speaking, it will take us at least three-five years before we turn profitable. But it has largely been because of the cost of distribution that it has taken us longer to break even. If it wasn’t for the cost of distribution, we would all be profitable. Distribution is the single biggest cost component today. It accounts for about 30-40% of the total costs and is going completely out of control.
Given the high distribution costs, slowing advertising and an overall depressed economic environment, is this a good time to launch ET Now?
Everyone keeps asking this question, but you see we didn't plan this channel last week. About six months ago, this was not the state of the economy. At the time of planning, we really did not envision this. But Times Group is an old and strong company with rock-solid brands. We are launching this channel not for this quarter or for this year—we are in for the long haul. This is just a blip in the long-term business perspective.
When will the channel be finally launched?
It will be launched in a matter of months, within the first half of this year and will be part of Times Global Broadcasting. Like Times Now, the channel will focus more on news as it happens. It will also probably carry features mostly on the weekend, we actually have a content strategy evolving, but clearly once we say ET, one knows it will be more breaking news.
What is the update on Barc? Have you decided on a research agency? Also, why has no CEO been appointed after Pradeep Guha stepped down in July last year?
For people who compete so fiercely, and here we are talking about three different industry bodies, ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers), IBF (Indian Broadcasting Foundation) and AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India), it is a pretty big job to sit on one board and agree on things, so it has taken a long time (for things to move forward).
We are on the lookout for a CEO. We have shortlisted some names and should have a CEO in the next couple of months. As for deciding on a research agency, we are about to put out the RFPs (request for proposal) for baseline studies. This will go out in the next two-three weeks. We are also meeting a lot of media research companies as well as educating ourselves about various procedures.
When is Barc likely to be fully functional?
We can’t see measurement coming out of Barc for at least a couple of years. It is going to take as long as that before we see any research coming out from our end. Things, however, will speed up once we have a CEO.