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2014: The roller-coaster year for West Bengal media

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A trip down memory lane in 2014 has seldom been a tempest in a teapot; but, a year fraught with a bumpy roller-coaster ride, at least for the media in West Bengal… almost as unpredictable and enigmatic as its leader. West Bengal, centre staged and witnessed many ups and downs on the news channels. Many bled during the year, with a slowdown in the second half, but only one channel triumphed and reigned supreme. It was none other than ABP Ananda, which was rated highest week after week.

City-based ABP Ananda emerged as a great opinion maker, backed by concrete facts and figures, and powerful, impact reporting. “In fact, its viewership increased after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s diktat not to watch the channel,” quoted a media analyst.

The channel has built a strong presence in the Bengal and Maharashtra markets and has firmed up plans in Punjab as well. ABP Group, in the year 2014, said that it aims to launch 3 - 4 regional news channels in the next 2 - 3 years in the western region, followed by northern India.

Worthy of note, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), which has a major stake in the news share in the north and western India, gained control in the east through its 24x7 Bengali news channel - 24 Ghanta. The channel inducted veteran journalist and Hindustan Times deputy resident editor Anirban Choudhury as the new face on its board and saw a turn for the better in the programme content and style.

TV18 Broadcast too launched a 24-hour Bengali news channel called ETV News Bangla in March 2014, in the presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The channel aims to redefine regional channels in Bengal. ETV News Bangla has caught the attention of various localities in Kolkata.

Star India too hinted that it plans to start a Bengali sports channel. The Indian unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire, Star India aims to expand beyond cricket coverage into sports such as hockey, football and even, kabaddi.

There was excitement in the air! News of non-operational Mahua Bangla, a Bengali general entertainment channel and Mahua Khabor, a 24-hour Bengali news channel, spread like wild fire that they were to go live again in the year 2014! This sparked renewed vigour among job seekers as the parent company, Mahuaa Media Private Limited (MMPL), which closed down the two channels in 2013 in Kolkata, was “exploring all possibilities” to arrange funds in the range of Rs 150 - Rs 200 crore to breathe life into the sick channels.

The most interesting development was that production company Channel Eight, which was earlier compelled to disassociate itself from the Bengali GEC Aakash Aath, after it didn’t get the 51 per cent stake in the channel as promised, within a month joined the channel again after it got its stake. The GEC said that though the focus of the channel has changed, it intends to keep news in the mixed bag. It also launched a couple of new shows such as comedy serial - Ghhente Gha directed by Manish Ghosh and scripted by Padmanabha Dasgupta.

Focus Bangla, a 24x7 Bengali news channel, is bullish about its growth in the regional market. It had introduced many new slots for programmes featuring one-to-one interviews with experts from various fields.

Narsingha Broadcasting also aimed to foray into television media business. The company was to launch a Bengali satellite news channel in 2014 but its plans were deferred to the early part of next year!

On the whole, West Bengal, has a small market size with a few 24-hour satellite channels owned by big corporates, which makes it difficult for others to survive in the market place. In the past one and half years, the advertising pie in Bengal has also gone down. On top of that, the money market companies made their exit, further putting a severe fund crunch in the media market. The Saradha chit fund scam was a golden egg for most news channels.

Bengali GECs, news, and other television channels which generated around 35 - 40 per cent of the advertisement revenue from Non-Banking Financial Institutions (NBFCs) till last fiscal year were all bleeding as the NBFC players understood that even after spending a huge amount, they were not being able to make an impression on the minds of people to invest in deceptive schemes, thanks to the Saradha Group’s chit fund business, which went bust in the beginning of the financial year 2013-14.

Many other companies, which are engaged in money marketing have reduced their ad spend, firstly to stay away from the authorities’ watchful eye and secondly, they seem to think that even after spending a huge amount on ads, investors are not gullible enough to put in their hard-earned money into the chit fund schemes.

In 2014, Bengal saw careful media coverage of Lok Sabha elections by the regional television channels. These included 24x7 Bengali news channels like ABP Ananda, 24 Ghanta, ETV News Bangla, Focus TV, Kolkata TV, Tara Newz, and infotainment channels like Aakash Bangla, which had three news slots for all the election coverage. 

The 2014 elections were notable for the vast array of outlets that an interested consumer could avail to create his own media experience on multiple screens. However, a continuous simmering political situation called for more political debates, phone-in shows in 2014.

On the other hand, the entertainment channels saw phenomenal growth as the regional market is growing. The advertising market is also growing day by day. The viewer bouquet is fast growing too.  Changes in programme structure have been incorporated in 2014. Serials, reality shows, films are given extra weightage.

Each channel has grown in terms of viewership. The viewers just want consistent performances and channels, which can give them quality content and programmes; and hence, no one gets to lose their market share.

Bengali viewers are natural lovers of football. Many of them have been losing interest; but, with the advent of Indian Super League (ISL), with daily exciting coverage, celebrity owners and great sponsors, it ensured more new viewers from all demographics. Not to mention that Sourav Ganguly’s Atlético de Kolkata, finally won the coveted Cup.

The GECs continue to dominate the Kolkata advertisement market, with high production values and a robust content bank based on local programming.

Overall, the Bengali media is surging ahead in leaps and bounds with more channels in the foray, new programmes on view and a bunch of creative minds behind them!

With this change in tide, which is nothing but technology-driven, the media groups had taken the route of social networking sites and web as tools for promoting their programmes and started getting live viewership ratings and responses.

The face of media is fast changing, where the media once uni-directional in its approach is now becoming bi-directional in communication and the future looks bright!

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