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Making the news: A look at what news broadcasters did in 2017

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MUMBAI: News channels were thrown into a storm of activity in 2017 with each player keeping up its oars to wade out of challenges that hit at them like ten-foot waves. With elections and sensational news driving up viewership at various points throughout the year, English news channels had to fight back to the onslaught that was Republic TV.

The entry of Arnab Goswami-led channel Republic TV increased the overall news viewing pie at the time of its launch but the hype did not last long and the genre went back to its minuscule share.

To add to the theatrics, there were several top-level executive shifts in 2017. Let’s take a look at the various channels and their performance during the year.

English News

Republic TV stole the limelight with the news channel becoming the news itself. After its launch in May, the genre witnessed tough competition between Goswami’s former employer Times Now and his newly launched baby. According to BARC India, Republic TV hasn’t budged from the top from its inaugural week till week 50. It claimed to have 52 per cent market share in its very first week of operations, which started on 6 May 2017.

Times Network had two big events to boast of-the rebranding of ET Now from a full-time business news channel to a general news channel and the launch of Mirror Now. Mirror Now’s launch got good response, especially from Bangalore and Chennai, with Faye D’Souza as the executive editor.

For Times Television staffers who were working the late-night shift at the Kamala Mills Compound in Mumbai, the night of 28 December 2017 was a nightmare. The conflagration that swept through restaurant 1Above and claimed 14 lives could have gutted the Times TV Network premises, too, which was on the first floor of the same building.

The net result: Times channels including Times Now, ET Now and Mirror Now went off air. And most distribution platforms carried an apology notice, in place of the live feed, which stated that the channel signals could not be received because of technical difficulties. In a recent interaction with Indiantelevision.com, Times Network MD and CEO MK Anand said that the channels’ success was the result of a combination of brand, process and team.

Anand expects news to be more active and exciting in 2018. “And with better market conditions, now that GST and demonetisation are behind us, the overall English and news space is poised for a truly great ride through the new year,” he said. 

The disruption that Republic TV brought about in the TV news genre was momentous and chaotic. Arnab’s new avatar unleashed not only a slew of litigations (the fight for copyright over phrases like ‘the nation wants to know’, for example) but also a flurry of allegations of malpractice and biased reporting. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to hold up Republic TV’s ratings and get them checked, accusing it of broadcasting the channel on two LCNs on cable TV. When BARC refused to do so, NBA channels pulled out of the ratings for a week. Months later, Republic TV became a part of the NBA.

NDTV group saw many ups and downs in 2017, which began with the raid at the NDTV office and home of cofounders Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy. In June, the CBI raided the residence of the Roy family alleging that the promoters and a private company linked to them, RRPR Holding, were involved in defrauding ICICI Bank and allegedly causing it losses involving loans extended in 2008.

In the same month, NDTV Profit was shut down and the group decided to transfer its business programming from Profit to regular business and finance segments of NDTV 24X7. In September, there was a rumour that Spice Jet’s Ajay Singh was set to take a controlling stake in the company which was vehemently denied. Singh was apparently unimpressed with the channel’s litigations and bad finances.

The saddest for it was the demise of KVL Narayan Rao, CEO and executive vice chairperson of the NDTV group at the age of 63. Later, Suparna Singh was appointed as the CEO of NDTV.

In the month of December, NDTV group came up with a turnaround plan to improve profitability, which involved reducing the workforce by up to 25 per cent. A part of this plan was implemented in the last quarter and included the much-noted move to new technologies, including mobile journalism.

Zee Group’s Sudhir Chaudhary was elevated as editor-in-chief of Zee News, Zee Business and WION (World in One News). The network launched several regional channels including Zee Hindustan, Zee Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand and it reworked Zee Salaam from a GEC to a news channel.

In October, India Today Group elevated Kalli Purie as the vice chairperson from the editorial director (broadcast and new media). The group CEO Ashish Bagga, resigned in the month of July and in his replacement Vivek Khanna was appointed. Rajeev Dubey was elevated to managing editor business (TV and digital).

Hindi News 

India TV chairman and editor-in-chief Rajat Sharma was elected as president of NBA. Ashok Venkatramani left ABP News as the CEO in 2016 and joined Chrome Data Analytics and Media as a consulting director in July 2017. 

A news director or an editor leaving a media house isn’t exactly headline material. But in this case, it is noteworthy because of the circumstances leading up to his departure and 16-year-long association with the channel. India TV news director Hemant Sharma was under the scanner for his role in an alleged case of corruption involving certain officials in the Union Health Ministry and owners of a medical college. Sharma left India TV to pursue his first love – writing.

TV18 Broadcast president- revenue Joy Chakraborthy said, “2017 started off on a weak note with the effects of demonetisation very clearly there. However, budget onwards, things started to pick up and we had a great first quarter. July saw the rollout of GST, the effects of which are gradually waning and business is picking up. 2017 also saw the re-alignment of media spends from Hindi, regional and English across genres, with monies moving out of English to Hindi and regional.”

Regional News 

Zee Media has increased its regional reach by launch Zee Salaam (Urdu) and Zee Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand last year.

Jagdish Chandra, after spending eight years at ETV network, joined Zee Media Corporation Limited (ZMCL) as the CEO for the regional channels in January. In his new profile at Zee Media Corporation Limited, he handled a large bouquet of channels, including 24 Ghanta (Bengali), Zee Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh, Zee Punjab Haryana Himachal (Punjabi and Hindi), Zee Sangam (Hindi), Zee 24 Taas (Marathi), Zee Purvaiya (Hindi), Zee Kalinga (Oriya), Zee Marudhara (Hindi), Zee 24 Gantalu (Telugu), and Zee Kashmir.

In the month of March, Chandra got additional responsibility as CEO of DNA and in next couple of months, Zee Media Corp restructured the top deck for its regional news network, reducing the role of Chandra to just three channels – Zee Rajasthan, Zee Hindustan and Zee Salam (Urdu) and DNA Jaipur. Chandra continued to be on the board of ZMCL and DNA while stepping down as CEO of DNA in the same month.

iTV Network expanded its regional news space with the launch of India News Gujarat on 4 December 2017, just before the Gujarat elections. Uday Nirgudkar joined News18 Lokmat as group editor by quitting from the post of channel head of Zee24 Taas and CEO and editor-in-chief of DNA newspaper. Senior journalist Vijay Kuvalekar took over as the editor of the news channel.

Umesh Kumawat, who was the senior editor at ABP news, started his new innings at TV9 Marathi in 2017, but within a month resigned from the post of managing editor of the channel.

Focus Group, which already has footprints in the regional news market including Focus Haryana, Bangla, Odisha and NE, intends to launch a Kannada news channel by the end of 2017.

For news channels, next year holds much promise. As general elections are due in 2019, a lot of positive news can be expected, with supporting developments during the year. Branded content is likely to continue its upward trend. With advertisers beginning to realise the value of regional channels, we are in for some exciting times in 2018.

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