CNN-News18's editorial and programming refresh

MUMBAI: Now it’s the turn of CNN-News18 to once again make news – rather than just report on it. The English language news service went live on 17 April with two shows -- 'Face-Off At 9' and 'Viewpoint at 10pm'. Anchored by award-winning journalists - Zakka Jacob and Bhupendra Chaubey, the shows aim to build further on the channel’s positioning of 'On Your Side.'

"We have always pushed the envelope in bringing our viewers differentiated content and formats,” says CNN-News18 managing editor Radhakrishnan Nair. “The new shows that we are launching are a reflection of our viewers’ expectations from us to continue to raise the quality of the news content that we offer – especially in terms of the credibility and substance of the debates and in-studio discussions that form the mainstay of prime time news television today."

The two shows are just for starters; the main course is yet to follow in the shape of a clutch of other programmes which will be unveiled in a phased manner over the next couple of weeks. These will be in the 7pm, 8pm and 830pm time-slots.

The new shows are a part of the channel getting a complete refresh in terms of its content and the style and form of storytelling -- the formal occasion being the completion of a year of its re-launch as CNN-News18. Audience engagement online and on social media is going to be a major part of its go-forward strategy rather than just toeing the official line given by governments or say the army or anyone “newsworthy.”

"Now, we believe, the news media is controlled by the views of the viewers posted on social media. We would prefer incorporating the viewers' ideas and perspective into the debates -- with the help of social media platforms such as Twitter," Nair says. "We would like to give our viewers the best of both the worlds -- audio-visual media and social media."

Talking about debate shows, Nair says that they have taken a direction which does not make much sense: a majority of these are anchor-driven in which the panelists are unable to present their views independently.

"The anchor decides in which direction to take the debate," Nair explains. But, debates on CNN-News18 would rather have a place for all diverse views. "We would only play a 'sutradhar' (the story-teller, or anchor, in the right sense) and not drive the debate in a chosen direction.”

The channel says its role would be to primarily contribute well researched pointers and content to each debate. "Jacob and Chaubey are senior, learned journalists who would study their topics well before anchoring debates,” says Nair. “For example, take the issue of Triple Talaq -- there is nothing in the Holy Quran which preaches this. It is the practitioners who have brought this into the system," Nair points out.

Nair is angling at bringing in other changes as well: in the area of panelists who go channel-hopping to present their views every night during debate shows. Says he: “It has been observed that 4-5 panelists on most debates come from a predictable select group of 15-20 people. We would prefer expanding this group. CNN News18 would like to have panelists from smaller towns and cities. India is an articulate country.

Nair agrees that the time spent on news channels is on the way south overall. It however spikes during election coverage, only to fall away quickly. But, he is hoping to expand on that by bringing in a wider viewer age-group. "We are aiming to attract the 25-45 years age-group," he says - once again clarifying that the social media integration in its shows would probably work well with this community. And, that’s the very audience that the pacing-on-the-sidelines Vice and Republic will be hoping to snare. Nair agrees that their entry will lead to change in news presentation.

"But, CNN News18 will not simply make noise. It will concentrate on good reporting, fact-checking and research," Nair says.

On distribution, Nair reveals that the channel is looking at going geographically wider and deeper, also targeting the English-speaking areas in the north-eastern states of India. "We will be investing in small towns and markets where people are still trying to understand and learning (the) English (alphabet). We are also looking at growth from smaller markets," Nair expounds.

What has helped the TV news segment according to Nair is the uptake and push by the distribution industry to implement digital addressable systems. "Viewership of our watermarked channels is growing -- be it on television, youtube or the social media. We plan to tap the three in tandem," he concludes.

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