News channels on road to slow recovery

MUMBAI: Stung by high costs, shrinkage in the genre share and a slowdown in the economy, news channels have had a tough year. Expansion plans were shelved, the workforce was trimmed and operations were rationalised.

The TV news industry is showing early signs of recovery as the economy is improving. “The ad volumes are coming back. It is a matter of time when the rates will also come back,” said Star News CEO Ashok Venkatramani.

Still, news channels are far from being out of trouble. “One of the problems is that broadcasting is looked upon independently as a separate sector whereas it should include distribution. The total industry gets approximately Rs 300-350 billion. We hope to get our share of the distribution pie. The need is for a more addressable system,” said NDTV Group CEO KVL Narayan Rao.

Agreed TV Today executive director and CEO G Krishnan, “About Rs 150 billion resides with the last mile. We want a share of that.”

The challenge for news broadcasters is also to retain eyeballs at a time when events are absent. Though the total news audience grew 11 per cent in 2009, the time spent on news channels has fallen.  
  “In 2009, there were lesser events. Regional news channels were eating into Hindi news. The viewership for English news channels has, however, grown,” said Tam Media Research CEO LV Krishnan, while speaking at the News Television (NT) Summit.

The session on ‘Reality dawns in the news business‘ was moderated by founder and Editor-in-Chief Anil Wanvari.

News channels, particularly in the Hindi space, are facing competition from general entertainment channels. The hard task cut out for news broadcasters is to have newsy as well as entertaining content in the mix.

LV Krishnan said audiences don’t always accept frivolous content. “Social issues and science and technology work in smaller towns. Politics and astrology content work in metro markets,” he said.

G Krishnan dismissed charges of weak newsy content on news channels. “About 65 per cent of content on news channels is pure news. Not more than 35 per cent is entertaining content,” he said.

He blamed the government for interfering with pricing. “The content can’t improve because we are dominantly dependent on advertising revenues. Allow free market to take place,” he added.

Den president SN Sharma said many new channels have been launched without a proper understanding of the distribution costs that they have to cough out to cable TV operators.

P7 News director Jyoti Narain said news is coming back to news channels, while Sahara Media India CEO and Editor-in-Chief Sanjeev Srivastava raised the question of how news channels could arrive at an agreement on sharing infrastructure for news gathering.

Associated Broadcasting Company Ltd (TV9) VP operations NVN Murthy said the regional space was on a growth trajectory and his company posted a 35 per cent growth even during the downturn phase.

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