Is there room for Republic TV?4 min read . Updated: 09 Feb 2017, 09:02 AM IST
While Arnab Goswami's fans may be waiting for his reappearance on the TV screen with Republic TV, the question is if he will be able to recreate the magic of The Newshour
Arnab Goswami’s new television venture Republic TV is getting ready for launch in March-April. The top team at the channel is gradually being put in place. In the last few days, the channel has announced the appointment of its chief executive officer, distribution head, chief technology officer as well as editorial advisor. More announcements are in the pipeline. According to Indian Express, Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a big investor in the channel. Among a host of other investors is Sameer Manchanda, chairman and managing director of DEN Networks, a multi-system operator in the cable TV industry. Manchanda had earlier helped launch Raghav Bahl’s English news channel CNN-IBN as part of the Network18 group in 2005.
While Goswami’s fans may be waiting for his reappearance on the TV screen, the question is if he will be able to recreate the magic of The Newshour, the show that he hosted on Times NOW, the English news channel from Times Network, a company of Times Group, and whether Republic TV will be a viable venture.
To be sure, data from television monitoring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India shows that the ratings for the time slot between 9 PM and 11 PM on Times NOW have dropped significantly since Goswami left the show on 14 November. According to average four weeks (week 43 to week 46) data before he quit, this time slot saw .198 million impressions. In the four weeks after Goswami left, the same slot saw its number of impressions decline to .163 million (in week 47 to week 50). In fact prime time registered an even lower viewership in week 51 to week 2, at .076 million. Impressions refer to the number of individuals a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.
In the same time period, the total market share for Times NOW has also seen a small drop from 40% to 38%, according to Barc.
A couple of things may work in favour of a new channel, says media buying agency GroupM’s chief executive CVL Srinivas: One, India is a news-hungry market and, two, television continues to grow. “A news channel can ride the overall growth of TV," he says. Besides, the entry barriers to the news channel segment are also low. It could cost anywhere between Rs50 crore and Rs150 crore to launch a news channel, depending on its scale, unlike an entertainment channel that costs between Rs500 crore and Rs600 crore. Licences are also easily available.
However, the environment in this genre is pretty challenging. For a start, the total market for the English news genre is negligible at 0.2% of total TV viewership, according to Barc. The total advertising market for the genre stands at Rs600-700 crore. And that, according to experts, is not growing. Says Karan Gupta, director at Aidem Ventures, an independent ad sales firm which services several news channels: “We haven’t noticed any advertising growth in English news in two years. The target audience for English news has been diverted to digital." Young metro audiences have digital options. “They have second and third screens," he says, adding that the pie for English news is not growing. So instead of pure play broadcasting, English news channels generate revenue from events and digital news sites, he adds. Distribution remains a challenge, too, even though digitization has created more room in the pipe. Carriage fee has declined but has certainly not been eliminated. Distributing a news channel nationally could cost a company nearly Rs35 crore a year. “For investors, this sum is acceptable if you quickly break into to the top league. Else this cost pinches hard," says the former head of a news channel who declined to be named.
In case of Goswami’s Republic, the good news is that Sameer Manchanda has invested in the venture. So the channel may get the advantage of being on Den Networks, which is dominant in Uttar Pradesh, and has a presence in Delhi and Mumbai. It is likely to be assured 12-15% cable coverage. Yet TV news industry’s inherent problems, which include low ad rates and high news gathering costs, persist. Besides, there’s a 26% cap on foreign investment in this sector. Still, a credible news channel with a robust digital platform may get eyeballs. Right now all channels have a standardized look and feel. “Clutter-breaking programming is what is required for any new channel to work. It’s all about how differentiated the content is and how it is able to connect with people," says Srinivas.
Some say that Goswami must come back to the screen quickly to leverage his brand recall and reinvent himself. Samit Sinha, brand expert and managing partner at Alchemist Brand Consulting, does not agree. The absence of a brand for a length of time does not necessarily make it evaporate from public consciousness, unless the brand was not particularly strong to begin with, Sinha says. Even though brand Coca Cola was absent from India for more than 15 years, it enjoyed enough residual equity when it reentered the country to create an impact. “That’s the power of a strong brand—it can reside in people’s collective memory for a long time. There is no doubt that Arnab Goswami is also a fairly strong brand and regardless of whether you love him or hate him, his awareness among the English speaking segment of India’ population is very high. And polarized as they are, at least all those familiar with him have a strong opinion about him," he says.
Whether Arnab Goswami 2.0 will enjoy the same success as before is anybody’s guess.
Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.