Admen debate on 'Aaj Tak se Zee News tak; Sahara Samay ya Star News'

They are the make-or-break people- those who play an important role in ensuring that new channels (news or others) survive the test of time. The team spoke to ad agency and media professionals in Mumbai and Delhi to get a perspective on the news channels - yes a lot of them referred to the new avatar of Star News. Here, we present some reactions:

Lowe Lintas‘ Integrated Marketing Action Group director Ashish Bhasin:

The news consumer is very discerning and ultimately, news content is king. Viewers had formed a habit of watching Star News; got used to the faces and presentation style. Changing this habit will require a slight adjustment.

I am sure that the Star News team is capable of rebuilding communication with the viewers but it will take some time. After all, news is a hot and talking genre these days. But the Indian news channels have a long way to go - a recent instance could be the difference in the way the international channels covered war vis-?-vis the local ones. However, there were some instances of brilliance - yesterday (14 April 2003) the Zee News correspondent in Iraq managed to go up to Nasariyah - the only Indian to do so.

I haven‘t found Sahara Samay quite up to the mark - very lacklustre. The Hindi news genre is not saturated and those who reach the top will grab the ad bucks. NDTV, of course, has all the ingredients and the recognition factor. Distribution, too, will be a key."

Media Direction senior vice president PRP Nair:

Content wise, everybody is getting a lot of stories. However, there is a sense of disillusionment with Star News as people will continue to associate it with the English speaking NDTV‘s anchors.

The current breed of presenters don‘t project an aura of confidence-personified or being knowledgeable. There have been some improvements over the fortnight but they still have a long way to go in terms of overall presentation, vibrancy and feel.

It is certainly not going to be a ‘cake walk‘ as the Hindi news genre segment seems to have already reached saturation point with the entry of so many players.

Also, Star News shouldn‘t carry both English and Hindi crawlers as this strategy is viewer-unfriendly and a strain on the eye. Viewers might switch off. Moreover, the panel size cannot be expanded beyond a certain point.

Optimum Media Solutions executive vice president Amit Ray:

Star News is definitely not what it used to be... may be we (the SEC A+ viewers) fell too much in love with Dr Roy & his band of boys (I mean NDTV). At the same time, Star News is yet not Aaj Tak! Hence, currently, at best Star News is ‘also ran‘.

When competition heats up in the content area, its the packaging (which includes even point of views) becomes the differentiator. And, for a broadcast product, either it is the likeability of the presenters or even better ‘stationality‘ (personality of the station instead) which drives people to watch it. It will take a while before Star News develops its own ‘stationality‘ away from what NDTV made it.

Earlier Aaj Tak was the only (sorry Jain TV didn‘t make much inroads) ‘free to air‘ Hindi news channel... now there will be many. Samay has already been accommodated by operators in the main band and Star News has become FTA (Free To Air) as well. The size of the ‘pie‘ will increase but the revenue will be split between many players. However Aaj Tak will enjoy a headstart.

Carat Media Services India associate business director Srikanth Raman:

1. Star News, from being an ‘Hinglish‘ (with 60 per cent of the content purely English driven), has turned 100 per cent desi...obviously encouraged by the success of Aaj Tak in the same genre. That‘s why, the look (which is more ‘tackier‘ and with ‘loud colours‘) is so designed to relate to the hinterland audiences.

2. The feel and look of the channel is very important in striking a chord with the viewer. So the earlier ‘English‘ avatar of Star News was subtle, sophisticated and understated to a more vibrant, ‘colourful‘ look on air.

But what isn‘t pardonable, however, is the goof ups; the slight delay in breaking news category (maybe the absence of direct link up from India is affecting them).

For example - in the story aired on 1 April 2003, the press conference held by Vivek Oberoi on the Salman issue was at least three minutes early on Aaj Tak and Zee News than on Star News (and that was the second day of the launch of the channel - wherein they could have made a mark by being first off the ground). Also, the ground reporters and some on air anchors seem very fresh and slightly unsure in front of a camera.

3. However these are early days. I am sure that the channel will correct these minor glitches. We all know how Star Network has the ability to connect with the common man (remember Zee and Star Plus in 2000...and what happened subsequently after the launch of KBC and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi..!)..they will put monies behind the channel to make it work.. Plus, there is always the huge learning and technology pool available to Star News from the Fox News Network. It will be an interesting battle in the Hindi news genre..

Right now, the overall channel shares of Hindi and English news genres (channel share as in per cent time spent in viewing that particular news genre to overall TV in a sense channel share is market shares) is six per cent and three per cent in any given average week (minus cricket, or any major news worthy happenings like elections, war etc)... Whereas for example Hindi film / movie genre channels is around 12 per cent and English movie channels garner around six per cent.

So realistically, the question is how much will these news channel genres shares will go up by? Ideally in any category, as more players enter the field/category we have seen the category shares growing at an overall the battle shifts from brand share wars to a category expansion task.

One way for news channel genres shares to increase is to (apart form relying on wars, terrorist activities and other breaking news contents) they need to appeal to a wider audience base include content which will bring in new audience types.

Hence from a core target group of working men/executives/decision maker etc (which is whom any news channel will target) include content that will drive teens, young adults, students and even housewives to the channel.

For example, some of the new players have plans to introduce gizmo/tech based programmes to target teens / young adults. Crime based programmes (Sahara Samay‘s Chargesheet for instance) to bring in the lapsed and the in-frequent viewers (from whom a news channel is only for headlines - based info) etc..

The best example which has been done successfully by an international channel is BBC World Service channel, which has shifted from purely a news based content channel to include current affairs, magazine format based programmes, content on cars/technology, content on movies/entertainment, analysis based and debate based contents etc...

Today, BBC World Service channel is seen more as information (relevant) based channel rather than a mere news/current affairs channel.

Also the overall market size of news channel genre is around Rs 2.5-3 billion in terms of last years revenues....and given a certain organic growth rates applied for next year, can the revenues exceed Rs 3.5 billion p.a? How then will the new entrants (there are five of them) hope to survive and grow in this limited space?

Some experts have estimated that news channels genre will grow to Rs 4.5-5 billion? Where is the growth going to come from? Which new advertisers types / categories will these channels hope to attract? Hence, it becomes all the more imperative to attract new audience types through innovative programming, thereby bringing in new advertisers types and categories. Hopefully, then the overall revenue base of the news channel base will see a growth.

So in that perspective the look of Aaj Tak, Sahara Samay, Zee News and eventually Star News (Hindi), NDTV (Hindi) will all look and sound the same with almost similar contents; without any major product differentiators.

But the trick would be to identify and offer the extra plus to the viewer, who while on the hunt for news (national/regional and international), will also be attracted to timely/relevant information, analysis or pure entertainment which appeals to the cerebral rather than the visual kind. Then, that particular channel (whoever it is) will definitely have the edge.

Aaj Tak may still continue to rule the roost (with a present channel share of 70 per cent in the Hindi news channel genre maybe dipping to 55-60 per cent) for at least the next four to six months at least, before they have a serious challenger.

Madison Media COO (West and South) Punitha Arumugam:

1. The way the advertisers allot budgets on news channels will totally depend on how the advertiser/agency anticipates the viewership to perform.

Normally when there is a influx of entrants into any one genre, the following trends happen in viewership:

- a marginal increase in total viewership of that genre

- significant audience fragmentation across the various new entrants plus existing channels in that genre

- and over time, a clear emergence of a maximum one or two channels as the "leaders"

Ad spends will also reflect this trend - so while we anticipate current spends on news channels to increase by 10-15 per cent, it is likely that the overall spend will be dispersed across the various options that most channels will not show remarkable revenues; while that select one or two will dominate spends over a period of time.

2. News viewership is traditionally skewed to males, 35+years, SEC AB with the English news channels being more skewed to SEC A. The advent of more players is unlikely to dramatically change these skews at least in the short term

3. We do buy news channels for our clients: be it in the FMCG category or durables or corporate. While the reasons for the presence of durables and corporate is obvious, the reasons for FMCG presence is because news channels are now becoming a pre-requisite to deliver incremental/cost effective reach amongst even the FMCG target audience in certain select pockets of India

4. The percentage of the clients budgets that go into news channels will totally depend on the category they are in - on FMCG categories it is normally less than five per cent ; while for some other durables/corporate category it can be as high as 20 per cent if not more

5. Yes, there has been a increase in spends in news channels over the years ; reinforced by the fact that news channels today mop up nearly Rs 2-2.5 billion of annual revenue - which is close to 5-6 per cent of the total TV spends in the country. Most of this spends has been on the three major players in 2002-03: Aaj Tak, Zee News and Star News.

6. Over time, what is likely to happen is that news channels may become

- less and less a "niche" channel

- will become a part of most brand plans be it FMCGs or be it corporate campaign

- will see clear leaders emerging as No. 1 / 2 channels, with the rest struggling to survive.

Madison Media COO, north and south, CVL Srinivas:

We are going by the credibility of the channel and the channel share or audience share of the channels in the initial stages. We have weekly data at our disposal but its too early to use data for planning. So we are looking at programming format, presentation format, technology being used and also the capacity to reach out to audience.

In the long run, news channels could also lead to market segmentation with different channels catering to specific audience.

Media analyst and former Carat Media Services India CEO Meenakshi Madhvani:

Two things have changed the face of the television industry. The first one is a plethora of options in the last five years. However, it is sad that all the old and new channels look like clones of one another. One just has to remove the logo of the channel and most people wouldn‘t even notice the difference. The same is true of all the recent news channels.

Every one is adopting a cookie cutter approach to broadcasting. This kind of an approach (lack of differentiation) will herald in the eventual downfall of several channels in the post CAS (conditional access system) scenario. Not many channels will survive if consumers/viewers exercise their option of choice.

Optimum Media Solutions media planning group head Anil Gulrajani:

I have received feedback from others as part of a random study.

Sahara Samay - Definitely improvement on Sahara TV News, could be a good competition for Aaj Tak and Star News.

Aaj Tak Headlines Today - Pretty okay, not much different from Aaj Tak Hindi except the language.

Zee News - Not watched for long time but in terms of viewers it is picking up.

Star News - Seems to have some problems at present - new Faces, lots of goof-ups during the presentation, technical glitches.

Canco MD Ramesh Narayan:

News is a bit addictive. While I miss the familiar faces of Srinivasan and Rajdeep, I think Star did a clever thing by keeping a gap between their going on air and NDTV going on air. This has given me a chance to keep watching Star. I think if they iron out the few wrinkles that any start up would have, they are pretty good. I like the format and productive values of Sahara Samay. I find Aaj Tak still the quickest with breaking news.

Situations Advertising client services director Vijay Kastoori:

A news is a news is a news. If we can get hot news on the channel we stick to it or move on. All the discussions on current topics and other issue-based views does not make much sense. Even when we have tune to such programmes the attention is on the news ticker at the bottom.

Aaj Tak - is still the same as it was before. Fortunately, they have not gone in for drastic changes.

Sahara Samay -

a) We put on Sahara Samay at 7:00 pm. We had some ads, then some public awareness ads; some product ads on ‘My India‘; we also had a lot of promos of Sahara TV programmes. For five minutes, no news and Sahara Samay has gone out of my mind.

b) Sahara claims said 100 per cent coverage of Uttar Pradesh. We called a distributor of Jyothy Las in Kanpur and asked him if he gets Sahara Samay. ‘Kya Sahara Samay?(What is Sahara Samay?)‘ was his response!

Zee News - I put Zee News on at about 9:15 pm yesterday. For the next 10 minutes there were advertisements and more advertisements; and no news. At 9:25 pm, I moved to Star News and will not view Zee News ever again."

Percept Advertising CEO Rajesh Pant:

Best debut is Aaj Tak Headline news; Star News needs improvement; Sahara Samay is also good.


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