Political parties push the parcel with TV ads

MUMBAI: Today is the day of reckoning for political parties staking their individual claims for the Assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Chhattisgarh.

For the parties concerned, it has not only been about trying to throw positive spins about themselves to the news channel teams on the campaign trail. There has been a lot of advertising time taken up as well over the last ten days or so with the Congress leading the way, albeit only on Sahara Samay's region specific news channel Sahara Samay MP.

It needs noting here though that parties taking up ad spots only in the last few days was less about strategy and more about Election Commission (EC) directives. It was only on 22 November that the EC lifted its ban on advertisements by political parties and candidates in the electronic media.

A detailed examination of Tam Media Research data on advertising on news channels in this period reveals a variety of interesting - and rather peculiar - trends.

Last week saw Congress going overboard with maximum advertising time (11580 seconds) restricted to a single channel - Sahara Samay Madhya Pradesh (MP).

At first glance, this would seem a strange choice considering that the Sahara Group has for long been known as a Samajwadi Party loyalist (a party which promoter Subrata Roy is said to have close ties with). But the Congress' choice could also be an indicator that Sahara Samay MP has managed a good reach across the state.

A senior Congress leader in the party's media cell admitted to this saying, "A lot of airtime has been taken keeping in view the prospect of the party in different states." He said that in states where the party's chances were doubtful, more air time was taken.

That the Congress message goes across MP is important because all pre-poll indications are that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) firebrand and "sexy sanyasin" Uma Bharti will come up trumps over the incumbent Congress chief minister Digvijay Singh.

Admitting in private that MP may cause problems for the party, the Congress leader said, "That's why we have concentrated on MP through channels that we perceived can deliver more and reach out to the masses beyond the bigger towns and cities of the state."

Moreover, Sahara Samay is understood to have offered air time to political parties at very competitive prices, the Congress leader said.

The BJP on the other hand, has been far more democratic as far as taking up ad time on the different news channels are concerned. While Zee News (2,700 seconds) gets the maximum in terms of ad time, even NDTV India, which it has often accused being pro-Congress, gets a healthy 1,895 seconds worth of ad spots.

Sahara Samay MP was the top channel in terms of duration of political advertising. While Congress was advertising solely on Sahara MP, BJP also aired 2,530 seconds of ads on this channel.

Strangely, Hindi news channel leader Aaj Tak, aired only 630 seconds of political ads all of which were by the BJP.

And as for Star India's Star News, there was no advertising seen at all, as per the Tam data. According to Star News brand director Keertan Adyanthaya, "This was an editorial call we took that we will not accept political ads. We didn't want to take money from any political party because we want to remain independent. Our credo has always been neutral news coverage."

Adyanthaya explained, "Our channel content has always been in the interest of the viewers. And this is not something we want to publicise. It is just the way we are and the way we'd like to be known."

The Tam statistics revealed that while Congress was the top advertiser, BJP has made its presence felt in the most channels. The party placed its ads in Zee News, Sahara MP, Sahara Samay, NDTV India and Aaj Tak. 

The Tam study states that the ads were placed anywhere between 7 am to 12 midnight till Saturday evening (when campaigning closed), and were spread evenly across all hours. The report also suggested a slight increase in the number of ads between the 6 pm -7 pm time band.

Of the other political parties airing ads on news channels were Janta Party on Ushe TV, Jantadal United in Udaya TV and National Conference (NC) on Alpha Marathi.

That's another strange one. Whyever would a Kashmiri party like the NC want to send across its message on a channel that specifically addresses Maharashtrians? The answer is still awaited from Alpha Marathi.

Leaving that aside, it is now "wait with bated breath" mode for the over 5,000 candidates vying to win the confidence of an estimated 90 million voters in the four states. The results of the polls will be out on 4 December, when it will be known whose message has gone across better with the voter.

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