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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  Is India’s television news industry killing itself?

Is India’s television news industry killing itself?

Inclusion of landing page reading in news genre data has been a raging debate

Photo: HTPremium
Photo: HT

Is the Indian television news industry its own worst enemy? A clutch of media industry experts, including those who have worked with, or are still associated with news channels, unfortunately, responded to the question with a resounding yes.

For many executives the latest fracas among news broadcasters over the use of landing page was at the top of their mind. Explained in an earlier column, a landing page is the channel that appears on the screen first when a viewer switches on his set top box. Since the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) records the ratings of all that is consumed on TV, viewing of this default channel also gets recorded. So, if you land on the news channel and spend just a little bit of time on it before changing it, it helps boost its viewership and reach, which forms the basis of selling ads. TV channels that pay to book the landing pages reap the benefit at the expense of others. Whether landing page reading should be included by BARC in news genre data has been a raging debate with channels divided on the issue.

However, the problems plaguing the TV news industry go beyond the immediate landing page dispute. For starters, the news genre hasn’t really grown. Its share in the total TV pie increased to 21% during early covid-led lockdowns jumping from 7%, but it slid thereafter. Sadly, news broadcasters could neither retain nor build on the additional share garnered. According to the BARC data shared by a broadcaster, (BARC does not disclose data to non-subscribers), for the week 40-43 of 2022, news share among audience of 15 years-plus stood at 6.6% of the total TV pie. Apparently, this figure was even lower (4-5%) some time back.

Not just that. The advertising rates for the genre have more or less stagnated. Though some leading channels claimed to have hiked their spot rates recently, the average price of a 10-second spot remains between 2,000 and 5,000 on popular Hindi news channels.

Some of the bigger consumer brands have been cautious of expending their ad budgets on news channels owing to the toxic content. A senior executive of a large fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company said it has minimised its exposure on news channels though TV remains the platform-of-choice for media spending for its food brands. The reason, he cited for tightening budgets for news genre, is poor content quality and the slant in news adopted by most TV channels.

Consequently, TV news industry executives said the total size of the news genre may still be around 5,000 crore. Advertisers may not be willing to pay more as the news audience may not be sticky enough, media experts added.

“In news, nothing has changed since I was last associated with a news channel more than a decade ago," said Chintamani Rao, an advertising and media industry veteran, and former chief executive of India TV. Even as the news delivery environment has changed, the news channels have not, he added.

Armed with a smartphone in hand, consumers today can access news from anywhere. “Especially, since TV news is limited to studio-based shouting matches rather than ground reportage. So, TV news does not offer consumers anything new. May be some people still switch on the news channels by sheer force of habit," he added.

For years now, the news broadcasting sector in India has been mired in controversies. Be it the television ratings scam, which uncovered meter tampering by news channels, the rise of toxic content on the small-screen, the suspension of news ratings and their resumption that were both accompanied by uproars from the industry stakeholders, the split in the news broadcasters’ association or now the din around the landing page issue.

Off-record media buyers said some news channels don’t want any viewership numbers and would rather remain a data-dark genre. However, not everyone agrees, as several broadcasters have been clamouring for a more robust and transparent viewership measurement system with a larger sample size.

Despite the grim picture there may be hope if the industry gets its act together. TV news is still a very attractive reach builder for advertisers. And for audiences, live sports and news are still linear TV attractions that can be tapped.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three sectors, or just fun stuff.

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Published: 10 Nov 2022, 01:02 AM IST
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