Chennai: From Monday, Mount Road’s Mahavishnu will compete on its home turf with the Old Lady of Boribunder.
For years, The Times of India (TOI)—published by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), has steered clear of Chennai— where The Hindu—published by Kasturi and Sons Ltd (located almost on one end of the city’s arterial Mount Road)—had reigned.
On 14 April, Tamil New Year’s Day and a public holiday, that will change.
For almost three months now, BCCL has had around 1,000 college students visiting homes and offices to promote the paper. It has also advertised on more than 100 billboards across the city. TOI is the country’s largest selling English daily and, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), has a circulation of 3,156,645 copies.
The Hindu is no minnow itself, and has a circulation of 1,330,518, of which Chennai alone contributes 280,473. ABC is a body of advertisers and media companies that audits circulation numbers.
Over the years, many people have used the same expressions to describe both the daily and the city: orthodox, old-fashioned and conservative. However, Chennai has changed in the past two decades. In the 1990s, it emerged as a preferred car-making destination in the country and Hyundai Motor India Ltd and Ford India Pvt. Ltd have factories near the city. The Nissan-Renault?combine?will?also?soon have a factory near Chennai.
In the 2000s, it emerged a favourite with software firms and several of them have, or are building, their largest development centres in Siruseri, which is in the outskirts of Chennai.
All that has changed the demographic profile of the city and BCCL is hoping to cash in on that. In December, Kasturi and Sons launched Ergo, a free daily targeting young office- goers—largely those in the sof-tware?and?back-office?business.
“TOI will be a pro-change newspaper in the city,” said Rahul Kansal, brand director, TOI. “The Chennai market is a wee bit underdeveloped.” He said TOI Chennai would have a strong local flavour. “The kind of people we have hired and the talent pool we are building will help us get the local flavour,” Kansal said. Apart from The Hindu, TOI will also have to compete with The New Indian Express—published by Express Publications (Madurai) Ltd—and The Deccan Chronicle (DC)—owned and published by Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd (DCHL). DC entered Chennai in March 2005.
Kansal refused to comment on the Chennai edition’s cover price. The Hindu’s Chennai edition is priced at Rs3.25. The New Indian Express and DC are priced at Rs1.50 each.
TOI’s launch is likely to shake Chennai’s relatively stable English newspaper market. Kasturi and Sons, however, is unfazed. “One need not fear or panic. The very fact that TOI took so long to come to Chennai is because this market is a hard nut to crack,” said N. Murali, joint managing director, Kasturi and Sons. He added that The Hindu expects thousands of its loyal readers to stand by it because of its commitment to “the core values of journalism”.
Analysts and experts say TOI’s launch may initially hurt DC and The New Indian Express, although the publishers of both papers say the situation won’t change much. “...There will be more competition, that’s all,” said P.K. Iyer, executive director (finance) at DCHL. He refused to comment on DC’s strategy to tackle competition from TOI. On Friday, The New Indian Express unveiled a new look.
According to ABC figures for July-December, DC crossed the 1-million mark in circulation to reach 1,003,170 copies, of which Chennai accounted for 256,918 copies.
Figures for The New Indian Express are still under consideration. However, during January-June, it had a total circulation of 278,243 copies, of which Chennai had 39,428.
TOI’s launch is likely to bring about a shift in the print advertising market in the city as well. An executive from a media buying agency, who did not wish to be named, said The Hindu, which has stringent advertising rates, might become more flexible with TOI’s entry.
TOI said it would offer bundled advertising packages. Discounts would be given for ads published in two editions simultaneously, Kansal added.
Over the past two years, DC has managed to build a significant base in Chennai largely on the basis of its price and Murali said he expects TOI’s launch to result in a price war.
“The Hindu is a secure brand with a set of high loyalty readers. But DC is the price warrior; it may take a call if it feels the heat. But all this depends on their business strategies,” said Kansal.
“There could be a price war between DC and TOI,” said Prakash Dharmarajan, president at advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather. “It is too early to comment (on this), but TOI’s pricing could be lower for they need to woo readers.”
However, media circles in Chennai were abuzz with rumours on Friday of a coming announcement from The Hindu regarding a price cut.
Mint is published by HT Media that competes with BCCL across several markets.