Television

Business channels gird for big fight

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Buckle up for the big fight. Monday on, the next big battle in the news channel space will be truly joined.17 January is when NDTV‘s business channel Profit officially starts beaming into Indian homes, taking head on the tried and tested CNBC TV18.=

With the proposed Times Group channel still another six months away, as per the timeline given by company officials, it is CNBC TV18 and Profit that will constitute the main drawcard as far as the business news slugfest is concerned.

And while CNBC TV18‘s sibling Awaaz, touted as India‘s first ‘consumer channel in Hindi‘, got off the blocks earlier (it launched Thursday, 13 January), one point that promoter Dr Prannoy Roy and co will draw on is that the language differentiation ensures that there is no straight face-off between Awaaz and Profit. Still, what Awaaz does is that clubbed with CNBC-TV18, it will allow promoter Raghav Bahl to aggregate audiences in English as well as Hindi target segments.

Bahl‘s aim is to widen audience reach through Awaaz, a Hindi channel with focus on news relating to investment, saving and spending decisions of the middle class. Says CNBC-TV18 chief executive officer Haresh Chawla, "CNBC targets the corporates, while Aawaz is positioned as a channel for the consumers."

In fact, just as CNBC TV18 enjoyed five years of undisputed leadership, Awaaz for the present at least, looks like it will enjoy a similar free run. And this despite it being 45+ days since Zee Telefilms launched its business news channel Zee Biz. The problem for Zee Biz from the start has been that it has existed on the fringes with no adequate push from the company.

And Zee Biz faces an even more daunting situation now with the arrival of Awaaz. A rather ironic point of note is that both Awaaz and Zee biz will constitute a part of the Zee-Turner distribution platform‘s new channel bouquet that also includes HBO, Pogo and VH1.

Profit has in fact adopted the two-language formula for the present at least. What this does is allow the channel to evaluate at some point whether it is feasible to launch a separate Hindi channel a la Awaaz or pitch its USP to advertisers and viewers as a "two-in-one" package.

As for the Profit Vs CNBC TV18 positioning, both channels are harping on two things - quality and unique differentiating programmes.

"We will bank on NDTV‘s credibility, and the image and strength of our two existing channels. Besides, we are introducing some driver programmes which we can‘t reveal now," says NDTV Media CEO Raj Nayak. It will be on the weekends and "traditional prime time" that these programme differentiators will come into play. Lifestyle, food, books and art shows, international programming hosted by Indians… these will constitute the infotainment part of the channel‘s offering.

Having said that, as far as the business prime time from 9 am to 5 pm (which is when the stock markets are on) is concerned, neither will have much by way of differentiators to offer. Says a source in NDTV, "In the prime time space, there is very little opportunity to do anything dramatically different. It will be a straight apples for apples fight. It will all boil down to whose apples look and taste better."

One area where NDTV hopes it will have an edge over CNBC is on breaking news. It believes that its much wider network of reporters that are in place nationwide will make a critical difference as far as business news gathering is concerned. Whether this premise holds true will of course be known in due course.

And what of the Times business channel proposition? While executives associated with the project remain close-lipped about the channel‘s positioning, it will be interesting to see if it wants to compete at all within the narrow space of a CNBC-TV18 or NDTV Profit. That it will have the highest quotient of non business news in its content offering among the three is more than likely. Could it turn out looking almost like what NDTV 24x7 is currently but with a far heavier skew towards business? That is not too far fetched a possibility.

FUTURE PERFECT?

Just why are so many channels getting into financial TV news? Competition will grow the market, says Nayak. "Being a monopoly player, CNBC-TV18 had limitations in expanding the market for business news. We expect the entry of new players will grow this segment to Rs 1 billion within the first year."

Agrees Chawla: "We fought the war alone for five years. Competition will help business channels emerge as a category. There will be fight for share, but the market will also grow and we can charge premium on advertising rates," he says.

Competition, in fact, fuelled growth in the entire news channel business. When Star News was the only private news channel, the segment was a small revenue-earner. But the entry of Hindi news channel Aaj Tak and NDTV later really exploded the market which today is estimated at Rs 5 billion.

PROFIT WILL HAVE HIGH VISIBILITY FROM DAY 1

According to sources in Sony-Discovery, Profit will launch with most of the top cities already signed up. He cites the example of the two biggest MSOs in Mumbai, InCableNet and Hathway, as having already signed on. To stress the point, the executive said Profit‘s distribution was comparable to the success Star One achieved right from Day 1 of launch.

Profit will be launching as a free-to-air channel.

Though business contributes to a meagre amount in the news segment, it can open doors for subscription revenue. CNBC-TV18 earns Rs 180 million in its pay business. Not big money, but it allows NDTV to look ahead to going pay at some point.

One of the reasons given for NDTV‘s other two channels staying free-to-air has been that there is little room to manouvre since Hindi news space leader Aaj Tak, as too its English sibling Headlines Today, are free. Going by the logic that the leader sets the agenda, NDTV could well "Profit" from going pay. But that is not going to happen anytime soon. Profit‘s free status will make it that much easier to push it up on the cable spectrum band. Something it needs to do at any cost because it is taking on a channel that is superbly positioned on most cable networks.

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