Television

'Aaj Tak will break even within three years' : G. Krishnan-Ex. Director, TV Today Network

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TV Today Network executive director G Krishnan is no stranger to television. A print media professional for nearly 14 years, he was in charge of a proposal in the early nineties to launch a cable network for The Times of India group in partnership with TCI, a plan that was later aborted. He later took responsibility for Times Television which procured time slots on state-owned broadcaster DD and later took to producing events such as the Femina Miss India Awards.

In 1995, Krishnan joined leading media publishing group India Today and went on to produce a daily TV news bulletin for national broadcaster Doordarshan called Aaj Tak which gained rapidly in popularity, and was one of the top news shows on DD for nearly five years. That daily show has evolved into a full-fledged news channel with Krishnan at the helm. Aaj Tak TV, despite its pedigree, is facing a tough time in the market place with not many cable TV systems carrying the channel. The network nevertheless made a rash of announcements in the media saying that Aaj Tak was doing very well, thank you. Indiantelevision.com's Harsha Khot interviewed Krishnan via email. Excerpts:

How do you rate Aaj Tak vis-?-vis Star News and Zee News? On a weekly factored average, what are your daily viewership figures?

Aaj Tak as a brand has been there for over five years now. As a 30-minute programme on Doordarshan, Aaj Tak used to reach out to three million C&S viewers daily. Aaj Tak has been doing extremely well since its launch as a 24-hour channel. The weekly cumulative viewership for our channel has gone up from 138,6000 to 5,230,000 in a month's time (week ending 3 February), a phenomenal increase of almost 400 per cent. Aaj Tak has managed to capture an audience share of 33 per cent among the news channels as against 42 per cent for Zee News and 18 per cent for Star News. Our average daily viewership for the week ending 3 February is 60,000 as against 32,000 for Star News and 76,000 for Zee News. The channel has created a loyal audience base with the Aaj Tak viewer spending 114 minutes on the channel as against 33 minutes on Star News and 52 minutes on Zee News.

Where do you have the maximum viewership, using a state wise break-up? 

We have got a good response from almost the entire Hindi-speaking market. However, north and west India contribute the maximum share of viewers for Aaj Tak. Your channel has been getting a fantastic initial but are you confident that the kind of growth rates in viewership that are being witnessed will be sustained in the long term? What are the TRPs that you expect, say six months to a year down the line? The reason for such a great response is our easily comprehendible and in-depth news coverage coupled with state of the art technology and graphics. We expect to maintain our current growth rates of viewership for at least five to six months, till we are able to achieve the desired levels of connectivity. The long-term task would be to maintain the high levels of viewership that we expect to achieve.

'Aaj Tak has managed to deliver real news, really fast to its viewers'

Have you set any goals for the channel in 2001? What are the revenue projections you have?

Over the last five years, Aaj Tak has been strengthening its market share in terms of both viewership & revenue. We have therefore certainly set both viewership & revenue goals for 2001. Aaj Tak began its journey on 17 July 1995 as a 30 minute programme on Doordarshan's Metro channel and created a loyal audience base both in all TV as well as C&S homes. Our existence in the Indian news scenario has lent us the extra advantage as a 24-hour channel. Aaj Tak has managed to deliver the real news, really fast to its viewers. The same has been possible due to our regularly updated and easily comprehendible news coverage coupled with state of the art graphics and technology. Not only will our channel deliver reach, on account of our highly attractive and incentivised rate card, we will also deliver high opportunity to see (OTS) at extremely cost-effective rates. Based on the above strengths, we are confident of achieving a revenue figure of Rs 400 million in Year One itself. Given the total ad revenue of over Rs 65 billion, our target is an extremely reasonable 0.6 per cent of the total ad pie. 

What has the investment in the 24-hour channel been? When do you see the channel reaching break-even status? 

The Group has invested over Rs 600 million on technical infrastructure, for broadcasting and news gathering. A substantial amount of resources has been devoted to newsgathering in terms of building a widespread network of correspondents with appropriate technical support. Sizeable resources have also been allocated to broadcasting in terms of investing in dedicated lease lines, best digital uplinking equipment, outdoor broadcast vans etc. We also have the best lightweight cameras, non linear editing systems and dynamic graphic facilities. We plan to spend an additional Rs 200 million on strengthening our technical infrastructure over the next two years. The channel will break even in thee years time.

TV Today Network Limited has appointed Morgan Stanley for a valuation exercise. The company is planning to raise Rs 250 million by March 2001 by diluting 10 per cent of its equity. According to reports, the funds are to be used to upgrade technology and acquire modern equipment. The company is also planning to make a public offering by 2003. Could you tell us more about this? 

A clarification here. We have not appointed Morgan Stanley for a valuation exercise. The company will raise Rs 250 million by giving 10 per cent of its equity to financial investors. This would be used to upgrade our technology. The company is planning to make a public offering by 2003.

You are also looking at a 24-hour business channel? Any idea as to when it will launch and how are you planning to raise funds for the project? 

We will look at all opportunities after we stabilise the current 24-hour channel.

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