Television

Weekend Programming: Under the Scanner

Weekends are for going out. That was the belief until English news channels decided to go all out and woo the viewer with feature shows of every colour and hue. Formats and strategies were discussed, anchors were roped in and the packaging spruced up.

Tune in to your favourite news channel this weekend though and you might just notice a few changes.

Indiantelevision.com decided to take an industry stock of weekend programming on English news channels and see whether it‘s on the wane.

Shows going off air

(Courtesy:www.timesnow.tv)

Times Now, jumped into the English news fray with a clear cut strategy to target urban viewers with their weekend programming. Urban specific news and weekend programming were touted as their ‘differentiators’. Celebrity interviews, talk shows, a traveling cookery show all packed with big names from theatre and television like Lillette Dubey and Kunal Vijaykar,Times Now weekend programming promised its viewers a variety fare.

Completing a year this January, many of the channel’s weekend shows like Life’s Like That, By invitation Only, Line of Duty have gone off the channel radar although the channel insists that its only taking a break.

Times Now vice president and editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami says, “Every feature show has a shelf life. Many of the shows like Line of Duty are canned and therefore it’s necessary to take a break. All our shows are a value addition on the channel and continue to be so.”

(Courtesy:www.timesnow.tv)

When asked if news channels in general are looking at a pullback in weekend programming in favour of more news bulletins, Goswami opines that “the channel has a good mix of both and while some shows may have gone off air, two new shows- High Life and Take a Break have been introduced.”

What’s replaced them is a slew of one-off shows, either as half hour features or festive specials. In fact, this has been a trend across many other news channels as well. The cost of production for a feature show may be one of the reasons why many of them now opt for shorter series.

Also, most news networks now have dedicated channels for English and Hindi general news and business news. This means that weekend programming across these channels have their own specific audiences. You are more likely to catch business features on the business channel. That would allow more space for news and news based programming on the general news channels. Both NDTV and TV18 network with focused channels for general news and business are likely examples.

Jai Jawan features on NDTV 24/7 and NDTV India

(Courtesy:www.ndtv.com)

NDTV managing editor Barkha Dutt explains that while weekend programming remains a very strong genre and there isn’t a decline unless “a big breaking news or event takes over. I don’t think any full length feature shows are being replaced, but perhaps because of a deeply competitive market there is now more of a need to constantly re-invent.”



CNBC TV18 and CNBC Awaaz marketing head Ajay Chacko believes that there has been a sea change in audience viewership during weekends and the various channels under the TV18 network have adopted different formats according to viewer preferences.

Short series make edotorial sense (Courtesy:www.moneycontrol.com)

He says, “There are two different formats we follow for our English business news channel, CNBC TV18 and Hindi news channel Awaaz. On CNBC TV18, we chose to follow weekend programming that has more audience connect. So for a business news viewing audience we have shows that are more industry specific. While Awaaz as a consumer channel has a wider weekend viewership and therefore you’ll find more variety in shows on the channel. The general English news channel, on the other hand now looks at entertainment based programming.”

(Courtesy:www.ibnlive.com)

This would perhaps explain why CNN IBN is the only English news channel which seems to have bucked this trend, given that on weekends it has as many as 11 shows and many of these continue to be repeated through the week. What may work in its favour though is that many of these shows are news based shows with a focus on current events like The Devil’s Advocate or The Verdict.

As CNN IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai puts it, “News is still our prime focus and weekend programming is only a cherry on the cake. I don’t know if we do any more or less weekend programming than other channels since hour on the hour news bulletins run right through the weekend. That’s what our viewers want to see but weekend programming has gradually picked up.”

Do Feature Shows Boost Brand Recall

As for brand loyalty towards the channel via shows he is very clear that “news you can use is CNN IBN’s mainstay. That’s what the viewers want and that’s what we give”.

While news may also be the focus for NDTV, the channel does try to retain brand recall through shows like Jai Jawan. “The understanding is that,weekends are when viewers actually do appointment viewing - and so it‘s a chance to create loyalty for shows - very difficult to do in the week, when people just seem to want to catch the news, and will channel surf much more,” says Dutt.

Chacko, however, has a different take on feature shows promoting brand loyalty and insists that “viewership is increasingly fragmented and the old notion that long running feature shows help brand channels no longer holds”. He cites the example of Business Legends, a short documentary series on living legends in Indian business. “Shorter series help to keep a tighter editorial leash on the content instead of subjecting the viewer to endless drab feature programmes.There is definitely a huge churn in the different genres of weekend programming.”

That may well explain why that popular show you watched last weekend has been replaced either by news or a new face. As most viewers and channel heads would agree, there is a strong demand for weekend programming. Whether it is changed formats like one-off shows, specials or promotional events that will feed this demand or even more news and analysis - we might just have to wait and watch.

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