According to the Ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB), there are nearly 800 satellite channels in India, of which about half are news channels. With an already crowded market, an increasingly loud general election has added to the number of news channels mushrooming across the country.
Andhra Pradesh, which till recently was in turmoil because of the imminent bifurcation into Telangana and Seemandhra, is no exception. Counted as the state with the highest number of satellite TV channels, the last one year has seen newer additions (V6 News, Express News, 10TV and ETV3) to the existing list (ETV2, TV9, TV5, NTV, Mahaa News, HMTV, Studio N, Raj News Telugu, I News, 4TV, Sakshi TV, Gemini News, 4TV, Vanita TV, ETV Urdu, CVR News, ABN Andhra Jyoti, the now shut Zee 24 Gantalu).
It is not as if the number of TV viewing homes is on the rise but that doesn’t deter these newbies from popping up. Indeed, AP has the highest number of cable TV homes in India at 15 per cent. At a national level, channels are deploying cost-cutting measures but in AP, newer channels are being spawned. So, what is the survival strategy of these channels? Apparently, they are all backed by political muscle though no politician will openly come out in support of them. More than anything, it is about party views being propagated through the media, sometimes openly sometimes subtly.
Only two of the 20-odd channels - TV9 and TV5 – have major market share, followed by the likes of ETV, NTV and Sakshi TV. According to local people, YSR Congress funds Sakshi TV, NTV and TV5, while V6 is backed by six politicians affiliated to Congress. Rumours are that ideologically, HMTV seems pro-Telangana though may not be backed by any party while ABN Andhra Jyoti is pro-Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Let’s not forget Gemini News of the Sun group under Kalanidhi Maran who has the backing of DMK leader M Karunanidhi. The office of Telangana News channel is actually located within the headquarters of the party office in Hyderabad. Now that’s called risk! According to the public, only TV9, Raj News Telugu, CVR News and the newly launched Express TV are apparently among the channels without political bias.
Again, owning a channel may be a power trip but running it is an altogether different ballgame. Approximately Rs 1.2 to Rs 1.5 crore per month is required to run a channel in the state and this includes cost of infrastructure and technology and staff salaries. On the other hand, revenues don’t exceed Rs 70 lakh and typically, a channel takes nearly three years to break even (under good financial condition), which means an initial investment of Rs 40 crore is required.
25 per cent of the Rs 1,000 crore advertisement market is from news channels. Of which, the top five news channels make up for Rs 200 crore while the smaller channels scramble for the left over Rs 50 crore. The ones with high viewership such as TV9, sources say, command up to Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 for a 10 sec slot. On the other hand, the not-so-high-on-viewership channels get just about Rs 600 for every 10 sec. Channels with political backing rarely have to bother about ad revenue since money will flow in anyway…
In such a scenario, it is not surprising that rumours of channels unable to pay their employees have been doing the rounds. While Raj News Telugu has been stuck in revamp for months, ETV has already launched its Telangana-specific channel, ETV3.
With 80 per cent of the state being dominated by Hathway Cable and Datacom, distribution woes are not unheard of. And yet, channels keep growing year on year.
To add to it, soon, many new Telangana centric channels will crop up to add to the existing chaos. The existing channels will be rearranging their distribution and editorial strategies to suit the needs of two states.
It’s time channels realised that the market is oversaturated before it’s too late. Surely the MIB can look into the state of news broadcasters in the state and rethink before giving out licences like freebies.