Lodestar Media's Compass Report on news channels: News for news channels

The new Lodestar report examines the performance of the news channels from different angles. It throws up interesting findings, apart from how the public perceives news as a genre and what gets priority when they tune in. Also thrown in are several pointers that news channels can afford to ignore at their own risk.

* News channels are yet to mature completely when it comes to content.

* Visuals have a far greater impact than the written or spoken word.

These findings are contained in Lodestar Media?s latest issue of Compass Between the (Head) Lines. The report examines the views of the viewing public on the news channel boom.

The study looks at the genre from both, a qualitative and a quantitative view. 14 Mind and Mood workshops were conducted in North and West India from September- November 2003. The target - SEC A and B businessmen, retailers and self employees. Mind and Mood is a proprietary tool used by FCB Worldwide for understanding consumers.

The first section of the study deals with views on news. Some key findings -

1. Kudos to democracy and free markets - The general feeling among viewers about the explosion of news channels is - the more, the merrier. It provides them with an avenue for cross checking reports across the channels. The viewer is not particularly concerned about the channel that he gets the news from, as long as he gets it. Very few people remember which channel first broke a story.

2. Everything, all the time - Times have changed from the DD days, where news had the highest appointment viewing. The genre has become a snack in between the ?K? serials. Having said that, most viewers want updates on cricket, social and crime related news. Beyond this, it becomes a matter of personal preference. Stockbrokers thirst for business news. Hollywood, health occupy a low priority.

3. More news is good news - The study has found that newspapers have not lost out to channels. In fact, the men surveyed find the print media more interesting as the likes of Star News and Zee News leads them to read things in greater detail. Outlook has a metro skew. India Today is read across the country in English and Hindi. On the Internet, Indiatimes and Rediff are visited regularly. The financial sector is glued to the goings on in CNN, Reuters,

4.Cable accessibility a key influence in channel viewership - The cable operator plays a key role in the channels that people watch. In the smaller towns, viewers complain that channels are suddenly taken off, only half the channels are available, the cable op is "not reachable."

The next section deals with essential pointers that news channels should never lose sight of. Some of them are

1. Fast news in great demand - Viewers have been influenced by Aaj Tak?s tagline Sabse Tez. However, while speed is seen as an advantage, the difference between one channel and another is perceived to be a matter of a few minutes. After a while, it does not matter as all the channels cover the same stories within half an hour.

2.Gimme all, but make it snappy - Coverage in both, depth for a critical news item as well as width of news in political, economic, entertainment and sports news (cricket) is very important. Ticker tapes are appreciated as they are read even if the news being read out is boring. Small capsules like one minute, 100 seconds or event 15 minutes are bang on target.

3. A picture speaks more than words - Visuals have a far greater impact than the written or spoken word. This difference between newspapers and television is a big factor in people switching on the channels. Experiential value of news has increased in popularity.

4. Names and Faces - On deeper probing, the study found that the presenter is important to the viewer. They like to see presenters who are fluent with the language and who are familiar with the background of the story being discussed. It helps if they are good-looking and well dressed. However viewers do not expect the presenter to have detailed ?knowledge? of vanilla items. A business channel like CNBC TV18 has to know the subject inside out so that a counter question can be asked at any point.

5.Keep it simple and uncluttered - This is something that news channels desperate for ad revenue would do well to remember. Channels that deluge the viewer with ads generate negative feelings. In fact, the need for simplicity has increased the popularity of tickers. A scientist complained that sometimes there is less news and an excessive emphasis is placed on promotions like contests.

6. Content is King - Viewers believe that news channels have not completely matured when it comes to the critical area of content. They tend to do irritating things like repeating the same item within one capsule. Viewers are also critical of the fact that they devote too much time on trivial issues like Karishma?s wedding. Sometimes, they go to the other extreme by probing too deep into areas of national security. They make mistakes like asking people who are not authorised to answer questions.

In The Spotlight - For this section, Lodestar Media used Visual Image Profiling (VIP). The non verbal tool aims at going beyond the obvious in order to understand consumers perceptions and attitudes. A psychographic profile is obtained. Pictures of anchors from the channels were shown to see who were liked and to what extent anchors influence channel viewing. This is how the channels are viewed by the public.

Aaj Tak - Revolutionary Leader - It is the most recalled and preferred channel across North India. Viewers appreciate the aggressiveness of the channel in presenting the news as well as the fastest aim. Most of the men feel that Aaj Tak has changed the benchmarks and established a new format for the genre. The channel also tops the charts with its tone, manner and familiarity. Older, traditional, conservative people view it in droves.

Because of the India Today backing, people feel that it is reliable and respect it. However among the younger crowd the popularity fades due to the sensationalisation that the channel does. Zee News and Star news are preferred here. Seedhi Baat is the channels most popular show. Some viewers like anchor Prabhu Chawla.

Zee News - Man of Substance, Style?- While it is predominant in North India, it is not the first choice. While people appreciate the channel for its investigative journalism, the packaging and presentation is not liked. The garish colours have proven to be a turnoff. Another minus is the clutter of contests and tickers. Some men switch the channel upon spotting contests being advertised on the tickers.

Star News - The Metro Sophisticate- This channel is metro centric. Mumbaiites go for it in a big way and it is number one here. It seems to have struck a chord with the younger middle class viewers. Barring Rajat Sharma, Rohit Sharma and Aparna Kala there is not much anchor recall. Its format of News 100, City 60 got the thumbs up. Aaj Ki Baat is also popular. City 60 is seen as the television equivalent of Bombay Times on a larger social platform.

NDTV - The TV Journalist - While viewers are well aware of Prannoy Roy?s media house, availability is an issue. Still, non-viewers perceive NDTV to have superior software with detailed analysis and expert journalists. The presenters of its English and Hindi channels that are popular include Rajdeep Sardesai, Dibang, Barkha Dutt and Dr Roy himself. There is a clear distinction between NDTV and the other channels for the viewer. While the others have presenters, NDTV has journalists.

However most viewers catch the headlines from the other channels: Aaj Tak, Zee News and Star News. They watch NDTV when they have lots of time to spare, on weekends or are on holiday. The Big Fight and We The People are the shows that have the highest recall value. The discerning viewer feels that NDTV breaking away from Star News has disturbed his rhythm.

Sahara Samay (Rashtriya) - The Greenhorn - It is hardly viewed in Mumbai and Delhi although most people are aware of it. While people believe that the channel?s presentation is good they are not drawn to it on account of the other options. Despite the low sampling the presenters are recognised. The logo and dress were mentioned as being unique.

Sahara Samay (UP) - Local leader - The channel seems to be viewed only in UP and Lucknow. People tune in for local information.

News on DD and Metro - The voice of reason (and the government) - News on DD and Metro is popular especially in the North across cable and satellite homes. Viewers like the simple, articulate and non sensational format of news presentation. Even though they feel that the news is partial towards the government, there are times when people prefer DD News. 9 PM News is the most popular show followed by Ankho Dekhi, aired on DD Metro with Nalini Singh as the anchor.

CNBC-TV18 The Business Guru - It is primarily watched among finance and corporate professionals in Mumbai and Delhi. Stockbrokers are tuned to it 24*7 as expected. It gets the nod for its analysis, interviews, presentation style. Core viewers are comfortable about the English language. They are hesitant about a local language feed being introduced.

CNN and BBC- Window To The Globe - The masses do not watch these international broadcasters, except when there?s an international war on. Corporate men tune in to them. While CNN is seen to be better from the content point of view, BBC is seen as having a non American viewpoint. The masses don?t tune in due to the language barrier, the accents.

Headlines Today- Hazy Picture - Nobody spontaneously remembered the name of the channel. Even after probing, most people had not watched it. In the North, a few people were aware that this was Aaj Tak?s English counterpart. Lack of differentiating content is hurting this channel when it comes to eyeballs.


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