Television

Low on expectations, Sahara Samay surprises

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It is still early days but a little over two weeks on air indicates that the of Sahara Samay Rashtriya‘s efforts to be different have succeeded at least from the branding point of view - but not in terms of cutting edge content.

Still, it is important to mention that the Sahara group didn‘t have any experience of running a news channel unlike NDTV or Star India or TV Today so it has certainly come through its initial birth pangs without too much of a hiccup.

Outside the channel‘s content, what needs noting is that it has got carriage across the board on virtually all cable platforms where Sahara‘s target audience is located. And that is a critical development considering the distribution difficulties that NDTV‘s two channels and the TV Today Network‘s Headlines Today are facing.

"Address the masses and offer class products. Media is more of a mission rather than a business." These are the broad tenets guiding Sahara group‘s foray into broadcasting. Some of these elements have been incorporated into the news channel as well.

This a team which is being built by Shireen and Arup Ghosh, while others have stalwarts strewn all over. Somewhere behind all this is the reassuring figure of veteran television presenter and "advisor" Vinod Dua.

Vinod Dua

Overall look and feel of the channel

The reception quality of Sahara Samay Rashtriya is as good as any of the others. The channel has given a lot of thought to branding which is evident in the fact that each ticker news is followed by the name of the channel (Sahara Samay) which reinforces the name almost every moment.

Sahara Samay uses a dynamic circular logo (which does not carry the channel‘s name) as against the others which have logos incorporating the names of the channels. The logo (colours of the Indian flag and people on the periphery holding hands) on the right hand corner of the screen actually moves in a clockwise manner.

All the presenters wear the Sahara Samay logo on their person (shirts or coats) unlike any other channel presenters - reinforcing the branding.

There are two crawlers/tickers - one of which gives stock market quotes. Post stock market trading hours, this is replaced by general news. The crawlers and supers have evolved and have become more funky - especially watch the way "Iraq" is read. This is unlike Zee News which has one and Star News which has one in Hindi and the other in English. During the day, one of the scrolls shows the stock market prices. Foreign exchange rates are also shown in the right hand bottom corner.

As the channel shows snapshots of the world view, they have images of the globe in the backdrop as the visuals are shown within a TV shaped structure.

Brand ambassadress Aishwarya Rai

Testimonial route

Sahara Samay has gone in for the testimonial route to change perceptions that its editorial content would necessarily have a Samajwadi Party (to which promoter Subrato Roy is close) slant. It has roped in politicians of all major parties - BJP (Venkaiah Naidu); Congress and chief ministers such as Ashok Gehlot. The news team is trying to position itself as editorially independent of the group‘s interests.

Pace

The pace isn‘t as frantic as that of Aaj Tak but the channel zips around the countryside regularly with stories from all the four corners including South India. Though the editorial team and presenters are fluent in Hindi, there is no element of excitement while presenting the news or the Aaj Tak style of racy, "pacy", frenzy driven dialogue delivery.

Anchors/Presenter



Arup Ghosh

As far as the "faces" that the channel wants to project, the focus is on the core editorial team. The channel is promoting its four main presenters and anchors - Vinod Dua, Shireen, Sudhir Choudhary, Arup Ghosh.

Most of the new faces don‘t seem very confident and the reporters haven‘t really learnt the art of smiling or using the appropriate body language for connecting with the audiences. There are rare instances though, when certain reporters rise above mediocrity - take for instance a particular news reporter indulging in shayaari (narrating verses of Urdu poets) during breaking news.



Shirin

The reporters use proper Hindi without resorting to Bambaiya or other dialects and minimal English words.

The recent promos are also seeking to build up the crime reporters who will present the crime show Chargesheet. Interesting move, as news channels seek to differentiate themselves from each other by trying out new programmes to attract viewers. Crime definitely has an audience in India - looking at the various crime publications which have survived on the news stands.

Reportage/coverage

The 50-plus news bureaux and other outlets have definitely helped in gaining depth across the length and breadth of the country. As promised earlier, the emphasis is on quality editorial and adequate follow-ups.

Sahara stays with the story after it has been reported and revisits it even when newer events happen. A case in point is the MIG crash - that an association of crash victims‘ families is fighting a legal battle wasn‘t reported by channels after the last crash near Haryana. But Sahara Samay got viewpoints as a follow-up.

However, a closer look reveals most of the stories currently on air are generally taken from press meets, press conferences and events, which is also available to other news channels.

Politics still rules as the channel is targeting the Hindi belt. Despite the presence of Samajwadi Party‘s Amar Singh on the Sahara Parivar Board, the channel has been giving a lot of coverage to the ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) as well as the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) Sangh Parivar (family). Yes, the usual favourites - "Ayodhya temple" and "Ganga pollution issues" - feature regularly.

Geographic reach and penetration

The channel has already made inroads into the Hindi belt with stories from Jharkhand (mid-day meal scam) and Chattisgarh.

The focus is still on metros and smaller cities. However, there isn‘t any separate section as on other channels - City 60 (Star News) or Zee News‘ Metro Beat. The stories from rural areas (villages less than 20,000 population) are still few and far between them.

There is no separate identity for metro coverage - Sahara missed out the Gudi Padwa celebrations in Mumbai which was shown on Star News and Zee News. South India coverage is pretty good with regular stories from Hyderabad (Chandrababu Naidu launching AP highway patrol force) and Bangalore.

Sections

Different sections include Manchahi - (feel good) stories - stories which are different and offbeat; not necessarily of national importance but significant enough to provide some insights. There was a story on older people who live in special care centres. A special feature on the security issue of famous Hindu temples in the country where the Sahara team went around different religious places and checked security related hazards. An offbeat story on the Cheramal Masjid in Kerala - a symbol of communal harmony between the majority and the minority communities - stood out.

Kuch Aur Khabre - about people and issues which are so small that they would get lost in anonymity.

Teh Tak, Khel Samay and Cinema Samay are some other segments.

"There is a conscious attempt not to have long boring shows where people discuss an issue," says Ghosh, head of Sahara Samay Rashtriya.

There is a separate capsule on business and the stock market prices roll over on the panel. The intent is clearly on presenting news rather than views at this point of time. Business Samay covered the recent problems faced by IT companies in getting work related visas for developed countries.

Breaking news patterns

The number of breaking news or exclusive stories hasn‘t yet reached the levels which the channel officials would want.

Notable ones included the focus on law-enforcers indulging in law-breaking activities (the Sahara Samay team in Delhi caught hold of various policemen who didn‘t possess valid driving licences or drove vehicles which didn‘t have proper clearances related to emissions.

Sahara broke news on at least eight days in the first fortnight, including Shanta Kumar‘s resignation from the Cabinet, the Gujarat controversy regarding ICICI Bank. Aishwarya Rai first released her statement on Salman to Sahara before giving it to the media. Her accident too, was a news break on Sahara Rashtriya.

Says Ghosh, "We did not feel the need to talk about it (the news breaks) as it is a given thing for a news channel to break story. But we are entering overdrive now."

Signature tune, background scores

There are two separate signature tunes - one of which is more international whereas the other has a purely Indian flavour set on the tunes of a Bengali patriotic song Aamar Janmabhoomi. Different from the from others which have more western tunes.

The colour scheme of the supers have been changed, made more funky. Graphics being fine tuned and Khel Samay is using some heavy duty graphics.

Ad break patterns

Brands which have started advertising on the channel

include: Samay Quartz clocks (good synergy); Ranjith undergarments; Dermicool and lots of inhouse promotions for Sahara entertainment channel programmes.

Brands advertising on a channel reflects the target audience of that channel. It looks as if Sahara Samay Rashtriya has to do two things. Clearly, define the attributes of its target viewer and develop joint packages with the mass entertainment sister channel.

Sahara India dep director Sumit Roy

Highlights of first fortnight - the channel view:

"We started off on a positive note and by the end of the first fortnight we have consolidated," Ghosh says.

The very fact that the news team is battling a not-so-high perception about the parent group is the highlight. Veteran TV critic Amita Malik has pointed out that Sahara news‘ high points are it is not pretentious and anchors like Ghosh and Shireen always are a pleasure to watch. But consolidation would be the high point.

After the first fortnight Sahara Rashtriya and the UP channel too have finetuned the look and their act. Recently they have also started using a video wall with the Gulf War coverage and it was used for sports coverage too. The idea is to gradually move the entire news on the video wall (which is a wall of screens behind the anchors that show different snap shots of the event being covered or discussed. Sahara and, probably, only NDTV has

this tech).

Crime reports have been received well all round. Aap Ki Aaawaj, People‘s Voice, is being done relentlessly to highlight people‘s concerns without editing them or trying to neutralise them. A three-part series on Delhi Police under Sahara Samay Abhiyan was received well by DP. The show was aimed at creating awareness amongst people and the police on ruiles and regulations and how mindless implementation of rules would not solve, for example, Delhi‘s chaotic traffic problems.

As Ghosh summed up, "For a fortnight or so we were sure that it should be low key and the product should speak for itself, which has started happening now."

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