Times Now turns 10

MUMBAI: The leader in the English news channels space in India - Times Now has turned a decade old and over the last ten years, the man at helm has tirelessly led from the top as he made his voice heard across the nation… questioning the system, breaking scams galore with his relentless and unapologetically opinionated approach night after night after night.


'Love him or hate him, but you just can’t ignore him! He is Arnab Goswami - Times Now & ET Now president - news and editor-in-chief.


Back in 2005, even before the launch of the channel, Goswami had told that the Times Group’s news channel will be looking at changing the rules of the news reporting business. And staying true to his word, that is exactly what Times Now did.


In 2006, when a five-year old boy called Prince fell into a 60 feet deep bore-well, the then five-month old channel covered the news in a manner that had never before been seen in the Indian news space. And it quickly set a trend of sorts. Since the incident had occurred in the hinterland of Kurukshetra and not in a more accessible metro city, not many followed the story initially. But a few hours into Times Now’s coverage of the story, Prince became the only news that mattered across the country for every news broadcaster in India.


Forty-eight excruciating hours later, the Indian Army got Prince out of the bore-well. As the entire country cheered and celebrated the rise of the little boy from the bore-well, it also marked the rise of another star - Bennett, Coleman and Company’s broadcast news channel Times Now. Goswami had arrived on the Indian news broadcast scene armed with his flamboyance and much more.


Recalling the ‘Prince’ coverage at a conference, Goswami said, “Yes, we sensationalised the coverage, and if sensationalising a story forces a change and gets the bore-well filled for no Prince to fall, we are proud of the fact that we sensationalised it. We will do it again.”


Times Now was launched at a time when the English news space was in its early stages of evolution. Dr Prannoy Roy’s NDTV 24x7 was the undisputed leader. But the leader’s two aces - Rajdeep Sardesai and Goswami was now steering their own respective teams.


However, Times Now’s launch was not a flawless one. There were teething problems galore as the channel struggled to find its core competency during the initial months of launch. But it soon found its foothold and decided to focus solely on news. And since then, there’s been no looking back.


Veteran media expert Ravina Raj Kohli says, “Times Now came in with the right format at the right time. In a market where English channels have niche audiences, Times Now has managed to make an impact on audiences who dream in different languages. The sharp and controversial format of The Newshour caught the fancy of the country after 26/11 where Arnab and his team’s relentless reportage and on-air presence showed through and was finally acknowledged.”


And what Goswami and his team did during that nightmare in 2008, which punched Mumbai hard in the gut, was exemplary… to say the least. It was by far the most comprehensive, responsible and sane live reportage on the Mumbai attacks at a time when even some veteran journalists were bungling up. What’s more, throughout the 72-hour long ordeal, Times Now did not air any commercials - a one of a kind unheard of scenario.


“It was nationalism amidst crony capitalism. No ads at a period when the maximum number of people were glued on to the news channel. It was surprising from a business point of view and it could have made a major loss. But what followed after that proved that it was a worthy loss. The Newshour is the largest revenue generating news entity in India today,” said a media planning expert on condition of anonymity.


The Newshour has more than seven brands on board as sponsors and commands top dollar as Times Now charges Rs 45,000 for a 10-second ad slot.


Not only 26/11, Goswami and his team treated every major story incessantly, which brought in the audience that never left again. Times Now only came second once to India Today Television, and for the rest of the time has comfortably been perched at the top.


Speaking on the impact of Times Now’s news breaks, a veteran freelance journalist said, “The Commonwealth Games Scams, which saw Suresh Kalmadi go behind bars still remains the best for me. I still remember Vinod Mehta telling me that Arnab has touched a raw nerve. He told me: ‘I called Arnab and told him what have you done that led to this earthquake? Keep following it.’ The Purulia arms drop documentary was also a great one, which revealed Pappu Yadav’s involvement. The irony is that no action was taken. But the documentary informed the audience about what happened. Yes, it’s an unusual breed of journalism, but I think that’s what was needed and the success of the channel proves it.”


Kohli is of the opinion that the success, however, is not a one-man effort. “Times Now launched all glossy and glowing, backed by strong print media presence, but it has paid its dues. The fragmented English news channel space wasn’t an easy one to break through, so being inventive and being heard was the need of the hour. Rebuilding news habits was a big task. Success on air doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen singularly. Credit must also go to the management of the channel entrusted with building the brand along with the business, to have created a model that allows credible journalistic expression to balance industry demands and public pressure,” she added.


The channel, in it’s ten-year success run, has never been out of criticism. There are Arnab memes all over the internet and people absolutely love to hate him. But the man remains unperturbed and even without having a handle on the microblogging site Twitter, he almost rules it.


Not the one to go back on its point of view, Times Now remained unapologetic even after Twitter was flooded with #ShameonTimesNow after the channel’s “Shame in Sydney” coverage on the Indian cricket team’s lacklustre performance down under. When later questioned on the negative outrage, Goswami said, “We felt it’s a shame the way team India lost and hence we did the story. I still feel it was a shameful defeat and hence we have no regret at all.”


Throwing light on the reasons behind the channel’s successful dominance, Kohli said, “Single minded promotion of its channel driver face and brand, despite all the HR issues that go along with such decisions, good on-air presentation and off-air follow through are the reasons why the channel has achieved this awareness. It is not without flaws, but its good points far outweigh these drawbacks. Whatever the pseudo-intellectual critique of the channel, the point is, it works in sync with new Indian DNA. There’s no denying that.”


She further added, “A hungry, bi-lingual, aggressive thinking audience has discovered Times Now’s devil may care attitude towards the establishment. And has loved it. Whatever anyone says about the channel, it’s a hard one to ignore. Its reach and perception is such that people who need to be heard cannot afford to alienate themselves from the channel. And audiences who criticise its piercing impact and style of journalism, can’t afford not to watch it. I’d say sustaining that negative-positive impact is the biggest challenge for the channel. It defines the brand.”


Chrome media CEO Pankaj Krishna feels that Goswami and his channel have redefined many aspects for others to follow. Terming the channel as a leader in all matrices, he said, “The presentation format itself might be a huge reason for debate and controversy... but Times Now has redefined the 9 pm slot with Arnab’s flagship show. Today pretty much every channel follows the same format - one anchor and the screen split into four windows featuring guests! All said and done, Times Now was a leader on the TAM panel, is a leader on Chrome DM distribution panel, and is now a leader on the BARC panel.”


And that just about sums it all up.


Over the last 10 years, Times Now has taken all challenges head on and come out triumphant. With cable TV digitisation in full swing across India coupled with the booming digital landscape giving linear television a run for its money, the next 10 years will change many a dynamics in the news television broadcast business as rules will be rewritten faster than ever. And in order to stay relevant, broadcasters will have to follow the cardinal rule to adapt to the change.


It now remains to be seen how Times Now and Goswami suit up for the upcoming challenges, which will not only come from competitors but also from broadcast landscape. At a time like this, how The Newshour man makes himself available on-demand, will be interesting to watch.


Rediffusion Y&R president Dhunji S Wadia sums it up aptly, “In this short span, Times Now has created a unique brand for itself, which is bold, outspoken and gives an outlet for venting outrage on everyday happenings. But mostly, it brings a smile on the viewer's face. Here's wishing the very best going forward.”


Here’s raising a toast to the next 10 years in broadcast journalism for Times Now and its team! Lead on!


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