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TV news consumption in the south - TV9 Kannada and News9 Karnataka director Mahendra Mishra

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The news television in each state in southern India has its own typical character that doesn‘t resemble each other. It‘s so hetergenous and state-centric that most often one state doesn‘t know how the neighbouring states behave.

The reason is not difficult to understand. Each state has its own distinct langauage, culture and social system. There is hardly any similarity among these states except for the Idlis-Sambhar-filter coffee that they all seem to be pretty comfortable with. But again Kerala is an exception. Here coconut rules more than coffee. Clearly, it‘s unfair to put all the states in one basket and analyse their respective media behaviour in 2009.

Andhra Pradesh

Let‘s begin with Andhra Pradesh.The sleepy state until 2008 woke up to a new reality in 2009. Till 2008 there were a few news channels that you could count on fingers. TV9, ETV2, NTV and TV5 were the only news channels in the market. Saptagiri of DD, ETV, Gemini TV, Teja TV, Maa TV and Zee Telugu were the entertainment channels. Some of the entertainment channels telecast news too. Like Gemini, Teja, Maa, and Vissa channels had couple of news slots after dedicating major space to entertainment.

As 2009 Lok Sabha and assembly elections neared and Tollywood megastar Chiranjeevi announced his entry into active politics, a new tsunami of news channels hit AP within a couple of months.

The new channels that 2009 saw included Sakshi TV, HMTV, HYTV, I News, Maha TV, Studio-N, Zee 24 Gantalu and ABN Andhra Jyothy. All these channels are in Telugu except HYTV and HMTV that run English and Urdu bulletins in addition to Telugu. But these channels have very little, almost insignificant viewership.

Most of the news channels were launched by politicians from different parties with low investment. Surprisingly, despite being recession and media companies resorting to cost-cutting, these channels not only survived but also gave unprecedented pay hikes to their employees. And all this meant that the IT state came to be known for something else - for having the largest number of dedicated news channels in the country, apart from having the largest cable TV penetration.

There was an impression that people were hardly interested in news unless there was a controversy or a coup. But all that proved a misconception as the news channels kept garnering better TRP share than the entertainment channels in AP.

The TRP war became so intense and cut-throat that sensationalism took a new high in the state. These channels went big on the general elections. Whether it was a road show of actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi or a public meeting of a low-profile candidate, the channels gave live coverage to all the events.

Despite the fact that some of the news channels were launched with low investments, they later managed to afford several OB vans and huge infrastructure in district headquarters to ensure that elections were covered live.

Post election, the channels never ran out of their staple TRP diet, be it India‘s biggest corporate scam of Satyam Computers, tragedy with Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, worst-ever floods in the history of AP, months-long fight for CM post by Jagan Mohan Reddy or the Telangana issue. These major issues ensured that news channels gained numbers while the GEC channels suffered.

2010 looks poised to witness even more news channels in Andhra Pradesh. With no local English news channel in AP, Reliance group and Deccan Chronicle are planning to come up with dedicated local English news channels. As far as potential for news coverage is concerned, there would be no dearth of news at least in 2010 as Telangana issue keeps everyone on the toes.

Karnataka

Unlike Andhra Pradesh, the TRP war wasn‘t too intense in Karnataka. TV9 Kannada remained the top channel not just in the state but also at the national level for a week (Tam). The Rajeev Chandrasekhar-promoted Suvarna news channel did try to make a comeback in a new avatar with a new team in place but failed to offer any measurable competition to TV9 kannada.

The gap between TV9 kannada and Suvarna channel was as wide as before with minor flactuations intermittently. Udaya Varthegalu, run by Sun group, continued to be in deep slumber except for a certain period when Karnataka Premier League matches were telecast live by the channel, defying all the logic of being a news channel.

It was more of a cable driven TRP war (rather than content driven which should be the case) in Karnataka as rivals made their best possible efforts to remove TV9 from its position on the cable networks in different parts of the state. They offered big monies to the cable networks to replace TV9 with their channels and succeeded in doing so to some extent but that didn‘t work in the long run.

One of the most important tasks TV9 Kannada took up in 2009 was adopting 5 worst flood-hit villages in North Karnataka when the floods struck the state.The response was so overwhelming that the channel collected Rs 30 million for rebuilding the villages from all over the state. It was the largest collection ever for any social cause by any media company in Karnataka.

The Reddy brothers turned out to be another big threat for the channels.They control cable networks in a large part of Bellary and neighbouring districts and most often the channels find themselves in trouble when the content is not favourable to the Reddy brothers. TV9 became a major target and it was completely cut off in the region by the Reddys when they didn‘t find the channel favourable during the state government crisis in September-October 2009.Now there are confirmed reports that they are planning to launch their own news channel that wil be officially used to build their image in public.

As news channels became the favourite dish for politicians, they couldn‘t resist themselves from taking a plunge. For example, Belgaum‘s BJP MLA and Karnataka minister Satish Jarkhohalli decided to launch a Kannada news channel by Ugadi.

TV9 launched India‘s first 24/7 city centric English news channel NEWS9 for Bengaluru market in early 2009. The channel was meant to provide Bengalureans the local content that makes sense for them, in addition to the regular national, international, sports, business and entertainment news. The channel was received so well that it took over as the city‘s most preferred English news channel in a very short span.

The channel made it possible for Bengalureans to see their neighbourhood story on a massive scale and in a way where their voice was also heard by authorities who didn‘t care about anything so far. It became the city‘s voice quickly.The channel‘s growth saga continues as it plans to enter other markets in the days to come.

Tamil Nadu

It‘s the Marans‘ Sun network that rules Tamil Nadu, almost in a monopolistic manner. The year 2009 was no different just as before, and predictably, 2010 wouldn‘t be any different.

The fact that the state has the lowest news consumption (around 2%) among all the four southern states, and it hasn‘t grown much over the last few years, speaks volumes of the way news television works in the state.

This is the only state in the country where one network commands over 85-90 per cent of eyeball share in the overall TV viewership, be it news or GEC. Others did try to make an entry but in vain. This is largely due to the Sun network‘s monopoly in cable business (through Sumangali Cable Vision) across the state.

Any channel has to be at the mercy of the Sumangali cable network. And the network has been extremely selective when it comes to distribution. It has traditionally chosen to carry only those channels which don‘t compete with Sun network. But it has been accommodative enough to carry its harmless rivals like DMK-run Kalaignar Seidhigal, Jayalalithaa‘s Jaya Plus and Raj News channels due to their internal political equations. Since these channels happen to be from different political families (except Raj News), they end up being the political tools to serve the interests of their bosses.

Raj News did try to be an independent voice but failed, all thanks to Sumangali‘s monopoly.The crux is that majority of the Tamil viewers are deprived of choices and the Marans continue to drive the eyeballs in the state.

The reason why the Tamil-dominated, culturally rooted Chennai still remains the nation‘s second most English news consuming market after Bangalore is that the average urban Chennaiite doesn‘t have any choice but to depend on the English news channels for an independent, unbiased story.

NDTV-Hindu was another non-political, independent media vehicle that launched in 2009 but it couldn‘t make any significant impact.

You hate it or love it, but you can‘t afford to ignore the Sun network, largely because you are hardly left with any choice minus this network. So the story ends here.

Kerala

The state always looks hungry for more and more political news. Even if there is an ordinary story, people are eager to explore a political angle to that. This is the reason why Kerala is one of the highest news consuming states not just in south but in the country (over 6%).

In 2009, Kerala was second to Andhra followed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It‘s also among the largest English news consuming states in the country.

Other than political news, Gulf related news rules the state, especially in the northern part of the state. Looks like the trend is here to stay.

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