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Frames discusses 'changing face' of news channels

MUMBAI:The Ficci Frames panel discussion on ‘The Changing Face of News in India‘ elicited both optimism and calculated caution from the panelists who included BBC World Wide (Hindi Service) Sanjeev Srivastava, TV Today executive director and CEO G Krishnan, Times Now CEO Sunil Lulla and Alessandro Ferino from DoC Italy. The session was moderated by Pankaj Pachauri who started the session with some very encouraging numbers for the news media.Pachauri started the session by bringing to the audience‘ notice the Times of India cartoon for the day by RK Laxman which features the common man flipping through the channels , watching static images and noting that this is by far more entertaining than the fare actually dished out on television. This attitude could be one of the biggest concerns for news broadcasters in India he noted.

Although the numbers for news media are encouraging, the content and quality of news content came under sharp focus by the panelists. According to Pachouri all news room discussion revolves around the 4 Cs – Cricket, crime, cinema and crisis. The industry is now facing a question of how to better the quality of their product and move beyond the obvious issues that hog the headlines.
G Krishanan, the first speaker at the discussion candidly shared that it wasn‘t easy to set up or build the TV Today network in the late 1990‘s when the banks were unwilling to help financially and there were critics galore who insisted that ‘we don‘t need a third news channel, we already have two‘. There was a general consensus then that advertisers won‘t pay a premium and news was a loss making proposition.
Illustrating how he had been introduced to the new face of streaming mobile video at the Frames seminar Krishnan noted, "It is not the changing face of news but the changing face of India which has brought things into sharp focus. News of course is a micro part of the whole discussion. It is the changing technology and changing nature of demographics that has really helped chart the success story of media and news media in the country."

Speaking about the challenges faced by news channels Krishnan said, "Most television news channels are clones of each other. We don‘t need more crime news with scary anchors." He emphasized the need to build a super brand through ‘differentiation‘ with factors like "art of story telling, look and feel of news and technological advancement playing a big role."

He concluded by saying, "there was a need to create multiple touch points for news- radio, mobile, OOH, in-flight entertainment and video streaming on mobile and internet. The idea is to create a brand instead of just a commodity."

BBC World Service‘ Srivastava chose to speak on the phenomenon of "infotainment" and question if there is a methodical research to check what viewers want. "There is an increasing feeling that there is more entertainment and less information while the idea of infotainment was to present information in an entertaining manner."

As a British public broadcaster who has also had an India presence for long and has actually seen "the changing face of news in India from an half hour telecast to the mushrooming of 24 hour news channels to the present scenario where there is a need to create differentiated, quality news programming," Srivastav still believes that despite all the news coverage on television the common man is not getting his dues.

"The man on the periphery loses out in this news game. He‘s not part of the middle class or the consumer class and therefore he has no stand. News ends up disappointing him." Despite what he calls ‘his old fashioned misgivings‘, Srivastava insisted that news channels would have to wake up to their social responsibilities soon. The television networks have to be responsible to both the market and to the Indian consumer, he said.

Alessandro presented the Italian news media view where he explained that the country had the bigger corporate giants like telecom and other industries launching news channels. The state of Vatican also had its own news channel. But the country was increasingly facing a situation of "one source news" which was perhaps balanced only by the excellent work done by independent documentary film makers.

Times Now‘ Lulla had a very specific point to make stating that the business of television news was "highly undervalued". "There is a big money involved in running a 24 hour news channel. The constant on air product, technology and infrastructure involve big costs."

Replying to the constant refrain of audiences and panelists on news leaning towards entertainment Lulla pointed out, "Films, corporates and brands – they turn to news channels to promote themselves because they still view us as a credible source of information."

The panelists were confident that the various news channels coming up in India would find ‘its place in the sun‘ and there was no need to hit the panic button on a cluttered market.However, all the panelists also believed that the reason the topic was chosen was to primarily point out that the "change" was still a continuous process and news channels were still evolving.

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