The year the industry entered the ICU

By Sunil Lulla

Perhaps that best expresses what Television News underwent in 2013. Simply because it spells out to say: What (the) Hell Ever Happened!

A pause would have been a positive sentiment; in a year that felt like the roller coaster was going to crash. Yes, flat revenues, would have been a positive. Flat viewership would have been a positive.

If the TV News industry was a human body, it would have woken up at the end of the year, from a long and deep coma only to discover, multiple organ attacks and multiple surgeries on its meager body had thrashed whatever hope it started the year of 2013 with.

There was a name change, a year that saw a new expression (and that’s the biggest positive outcome of 2013) - ‘TVT’ replace ‘TRP’ to aid acknowledgement of the growth of TV viewers, was the silver lining on an otherwise dark cloud. But still to gain currency and translate into value. So, at this stage for TV News, just a name change.

Then came hope, with the promise of new infusion of body muscle with a change in thinking around foreign investment in TV News. But on the day the good Doctor did not show up and the patient will limber on trying to find investment funds. The strong may survive, but many will perish, without new hope of quality investment.

Tossed from one operating theatre to another, the patient remains in ICU. Not knowing if the doctor will pull the plug or resuscitate.

A series of cardiac attacks followed, with circulation of blood (advertising income) threatening to be restricted, cutting away supply of oxygen and threatening the very survival of the TV News industry and the consequent ill effects on democracy. Tossed from one operating theatre to another, the patient remains in ICU. Not knowing if the doctor will pull the plug or resuscitate. The patient though is showing visible signs of fighting strong.

Finally, the cost of medication went up, with Digital Addressable System (DAS) 2 – carriage fees, which were expected and promised to go down (as was experienced with DAS1) headed northwards. The daily dose of vitamins just got more expensive.

In this mayhem and bodily torture, what kept the soul and the body together, you may ask? The kindred of the TV News industry survives on the very one thing it does best – delivering quality news, round the clock, with commitment.

There was lots of news. It became more social and digital and TV News leveraged that growth engine.

It has built a sound set of principles and a robust mechanism to work together as an industry, in unison. This antibody resisted all those attacks and kept intact body and soul. Nourishing it for another day, another year.  One that the TV News industry, knows will not be easy. But it has got smarter and knows how to work together.

For 2014, the TV news industry must make a Bang – big audacious news and glory. With a major election in sigh, the industry must learn to stick together even more, grow its value and turn away the woes and the Whew to bold steps of business collaboration, to drive down costs and bring profitability into the industry.

Be it carriage, ad price, inventory, news standards, governance – the TV News business can evolve the industry’s future by creating its own self-regulation on best business practices and best shareholder practices to bring the shine back into it.

2014 brings hope, renewed faith and will be full of News! Good News! BANG!

(Sunil Lulla is MD and CEO of Times Television Network. The views expressed in the above article are the author's personal views)

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