"When NDTV India started Aaj Tak had 60% market share, now its down to 30%" : Rajdeep Sardesai

NDTV managing editor Rajdeep Sardesai believes in starting his day early because it's only up to 1 pm that he can do other things, which sometimes also includes sprucing up a book written by a colleague. "After 1 pm, one's life is in somebody else's control as one hops from one deadline to another and from one official meeting to another," is his explanation as to why he prefers to do non-official things in the early part of the day. No wonder, the interview too was scheduled early in the morning.

Sardesai is not only one of the most familiar faces, but also considered one of the more intelligent ones on the idiot box. Sardesai's rise to fame cannot be termed as an overnight happening as friends and foes alike admit that he has worked hard right from when news and current affairs on Indian television had only started developing into a serious genre of programming.'s Anjan Mitra quizzed the 40-year-old Sardesai on various subjects, including the reason for NDTV extending an invitation to Deepak Chaurasia to join the Hindi news channel at a time when he was being painted as a man owing allegiance to a particular political party.


How would you describe things at NDTV since the two channels have completed 15 months on air?

Both the channels are doing well. The English channel, NDTV 24x7, has emerged as the No.1 channel amongst the English news channels with a 45 per cent market share, while the Hindi one, NDTV India, has a share of 21 per cent at most places. The point to be noted is that (market leader) Aaj Tak's share has come down to about 27 per cent and these are all TAM figures that I am quoting. By these yardsticks, one can say it hasn't been a bad time.

Which channel would be the nearest competitor to NDTV 24x7?

The English news channel market is quite volatile, but still our nearest rival, CNBC-TV 18, has a market share of 25 per cent, almost half of ours. The others like BBC and CNN have lesser market shares. So, as a leader we would like to increase the gap between CNBC-TV 18 and us.

What is the game plan in this regard?

I would not term it a game plan, but the idea is to increase NDTV 24x7's market share to at least 50 per cent over a period of time and take it up further to 60 per cent. This would mean that we would like to be in a place of complete dominance from where it would be difficult for competition to shake us off. There is no set time frame for achieving these goals, but we have reasons to believe that we can do it and the earlier it is done, the better.

Viewers do come to NDTV 24x7 whenever there is some big event, but audiences also go to CNBC-TV 18 during a particular period of time. That is why we have decided to focus on business programming between 9 am and 4 pm and the TRPs show that the ratings for our programmes during this time band are improving.

"We must start looking at localization and interactivity. There would be some anchors who will drive content and, in turn, drive viewership. On the other hand, though content is king, the right mix of marketing and distribution is equally important"

Wasn't this special focus on business programming supposed to have started earlier?

Yes. But the whole marketing process got delayed because of the general elections announced in February.

And, what about the Hindi channel vis-?-vis market leader Aaj Tak?

That's goal No. 1 and we know it is a matter of ratings and time. We have just reached the half way mark as Aaj Tak has had a head start of at least five years over NDTV India. Because Aaj Tak is a very good channel, we need to be more focused. We feel that one or two prime time programmes can make the difference. For example, the 9 pm news on NDTV India has higher ratings than news on Aaj Tak at the same time.

It is not possible to always maintain this lead on prime time. However, what is more important is who does better programming and creates new news properties. Why do I say this? Everybody is breaking news and every channel from a Sahara to Zee News to Star News and NDTV India has its share of exclusives and newsbreaks. Nobody now claims to be subse tez (fastest with news).

People now want to see beyond the breaking news, go to the second stage and the challenge would be there to cater to people. When we started, Aaj Tak had a market share of almost 60 per cent. One year down the line that share has come down to an average of 30 per cent. So, NDTV India has made a difference.


What are NDTV's plans to create new properties in the news and current affairs genre?

In Hindi, we do have some good properties like Jai Jawan, FIR and Muqabla, but there are obviously some things we need to work on further.

What would be those areas?

I cannot reveal those details, but, as they say, watch this space for more on this.

How do you go about creating news properties, which must be difficult, unlike those in entertainment segment?

It's really tough to create properties in the news and current affairs genre. But the challenge lies therein. It would be, I feel, the ability to go in for innovations. Gustaqi Maaf (an animated political satire), for instance, was one such innovation and believe me such ideas are not easy to come up with or even execute.

The news channel that innovates with programming will emerge more successful than others.

Critics are of the opinion that NDTV's anchors are too opinionated and the channels pontificate too much. How do you respond to such charges?

It's possible and it is most likely to happen in current affairs programming. But it's also important to take stands without being too intrusive on viewers. Being intelligently opinionated is not bad.

How do you see the news market developing in the coming years?

We must start looking at localization and interactivity. There would be some anchors who will drive content and, in turn, drive viewership. On the other hand, though content is king, the right mix of marketing and distribution is equally important.

Don't you think that, unlike last year, subscription revenues through aggressive distribution would take precedence over ad revenue, which is likely to be in short supply for everybody as growth is not being witnessed?

Subscription revenue is important, but my belief is that advertising revenue would continue to dominate. I also don't see any reversal of that trend this year.

"The biggest challenge in localization would be to communicate with people from various strata of life without dumbing them down"

What do you mean by the need to localize?

You'll witness localization of news and current affairs in a better way five years down the line, but the beginning has to be made as it would drive the market. As segmentation of news happens, channels devoted to niche subjects and areas would crop up to cater to niche audiences, social groups and various regions. That's one form of localization.

Another form of localization is to look beyond Delhi, as news is not always made in Delhi or Mumbai alone. The floods in Bihar or the death of farmers in Andhra Pradesh are as important as the Parliament session in Delhi or the regional politics in Maharashtra.

But, according to me, the biggest challenge in localization would be to communicate with people from various strata of life without dumbing them down. At NDTV, we have put on our thinking caps on such issues.

Don't you think that too much of Page 3 type of reporting on television is actually dumbing down of the viewer? It's like saying, they are only fit to see 'Night Out' -type of programmes.

That's exactly what I meant when I said that the biggest challenge would be to see that dumbing down of viewers doesn't happen. Of course, there would be a set of people who would like to see Page 3 type of reporting and programmes on TV. But there is another India too, that needs and would like to be given serious information and news. The mix has to be right and the correct model has to be found. The belief that sex and sports would definitely sell on TV, may not be necessarily true.

Which are other time bands that hold potential?

I feel the morning time band between 8-9 am has not been fully exploited. You'd be surprised, but the ratings of the morning time band are as much as 8-9 pm. The morning time band is something like the Vividh Bharati (on All India Radio) of yore that you just put on to hear, not necessarily watch always. Good properties need to be developed for this time band.

Now, one has to see what sort of mix works in India. In the US, the morning time band is dominated by hard news and some of the highest paid anchors feature during that time. Would this work in India? One really doesn't know. But this area needs to be studied. There is also potential in sports programming.

Though NDTV's poll predictions were the closest to the final outcome in the elections, what made TV channels miss the trend?

Sitting in our air-conditioned offices and studios, most of us missed the ground realities. We failed to recognize the anonymous voter. What is more hurting is that while most TV channels got caught up in concentrating on the losses of the NDA government (previous regime in Delhi), the trend of Congress' revival and return to power was completely missed.

We have learnt our lessons. That's why for the Maharashtra elections, we at NDTV have decided to adopt a different model --- not top down, but bottom up.

Tell me, what made an organization like NDTV offer a job to Deepak Chaurasia in NDTV India, considering the reputation that he allegedly carries?

I would not like to comment on an individual, but as a news organization we are constantly on the look out for new talent. As long as an individual is a good professional, the past should not make much of a difference. As long as an individual's loyalty is towards his or her work --- in this case journalism --- and the Constitution of the country, he or she should be considered fit for a job.

What is your take on the news scenario five years from now?

I feel that there would be one major news channel in every Indian language, except, probably, Hindi where there would more than one because of the size of the market. The mode of delivery would be important too.


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