India’s television businesses see fresh impetus for the industry coming from the regional languages, the key ones being Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Marathi. Given the higher literacy levels and better infrastructure, the south has always been lucrative for any marketeer. With their reach extending beyond the borders of their home states to the diaspora, regional-language television broadcasters have been growing at a faster rate than the overall television industry in India.
Among the southern states, Andhra Pradesh has the largest number of dedicated news channels, apart from having the highest cable TV penetration.
Until 2008, there were only a few Telugu news channels in the state such as TV9, ETV2, NTV and TV5, alongside the entertainment ones, which were Doordarshan’s Saptagiri, ETV, Gemini TV, Teja TV, Maa TV and Zee Telugu. Some of the entertainment channels featured news bulletins with their array of serials, movies and reality shows.
Last year’s simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections marked a surge in news channels as film star Chiranjeevi announced his entry into active politics. These included Sakshi TV, HMTV, HYTV, Maha TV, Studio-N, Zee 24 Gantalu and ABN Andhra Jyothy. With the launch of Raj TV earlier this month, the state now has 13 news channels compared with 12 general entertainment channels. It’s intriguing to see this rush to start news channels in an already cluttered space.
Most of the news channels have been launched by politicians from different parties with low investment costs. With a news channel costing around Rs50 crore to launch, this is seen as an economical option to get “favourable coverage” and build up a public image.
However, the clutter has resulted in fierce competition and rising sensationalism. The Telugu media has been criticized for fanning the Telanagana agitation, leading to loss of life and property. The Andhra Pradesh high court had to intervene and warn TV channels in the state to refrain from airing provocative speeches and visuals.
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Similarly, the channels were blamed for spreading rumour and disinformation when chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy died in a helicopter accident. The courts had to step in to stop the airing of speculative discussions or programmes before the release of an official report on the accident.
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
While the rising number of such channels in Andhra Pradesh can be hailed as a step towards meeting information needs and feeding the hunger for news, it has also raised questions regarding coverage. The threads linking politics and the channels often get entangled, resulting in distorted coverage. The explosion of Telugu news channels provides further opportunity to study the role and relevance of such media in our democratic state.
It’s inevitable that what has happened in Andhra Pradesh will be replicated as the share of regional markets in the overall revenue pie (including subscription) is increasing.
A McKinsey and Co. study forecasts that the regional markets are expected to grow at 20% CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) in terms of ad revenue to at least $1 billion (Rs4,460 crore) by 2012-13. However, the emerging trends—as highlighted by the Telugu news channels—indicate that most regional players are focused on expanding their political clout and achieving their aspirations. In this process, professionalism, innovation, quality, competition and diversity of opinion take a back seat. However, for the sustainable growth of regional news media, these issues may need to be brought to the forefront.
Therefore, the future of regional television news channels lies in the hand of news leaders and not political leaders.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS). She also heads the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies.
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