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'TRP chasing has done major damage and it is time we took a call on that'

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I t is easy to say that only those channels that got low ratings are criticising the ratings system. But no one can deny that many channels are taking a short cut to improve their ratings not by doing news but something other than news and calling themselves news channels.

In fact, since we managed to jump from six per cent to 14 per cent of the market share (Hindu TV news space), nobody can say that we are criticising because we failed in that growth. But news cannot compete with low cost reality shows.

I understand that issues like defence policy or India's nuclear deal may not be easily understandable for everyone. But in the place of these critical issues, there is someone calling himself a news channel and showing a lion hugging a man from inside the cage, and showing this for hours on end, that is not news. It is, of course, an interesting visual and can be shown for 10 or 12 seconds snippet, but how come that becomes the 'news'?

I think the time has come when a line has to be drawn as to who are the news channels. Why are the low cost reality channels eating into the genre of the news channels? If that line is not defined, I think the new TV news channels that are coming up are headed for big trouble. This is because people have started having a very low opinion about news channels.

What is happening is that in this market of reality TV posing as news, the reporter, the editor or serious journalist is becoming irrelevant, because their coverage is not carried. When the fate of the UP government was being decided, one so-called news channel decided to show only crime or something from the glamour world, which was not news at that point in time, though I am not saying the glamour world does not or should not make news.

So, this year, in these terms, has been extremely bad, and it has crystallised to the situation that people have become hostile to the news channels. It is has been said that some of the stories could have been concocted, and this is partly right, as some of our stringers realise that these are the interesting visuals and will grab eyeballs, so they sometimes do concoct and sometimes they recreate an entire story.

No one can deny that many channels are taking a short cut to improve their ratings not by doing news but something other than news and calling themselves news channels

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Unfortunately, this is happening in a year during which TV channels have done some wonderful work. In fact, some great work. It has seriously posed a challenge to the people in power and exposed them, whether you agree on principle about the sting operations or not. But no one has till date raised a finger against the sting on parliamentarians on the cash-for-query issue.

But despite all this good work, the whole system of TRP chasing has done major damage and it is time we took a call on that so that this entire positive is not overshadowed by that chase.

So far as business goes, the main issue is what the advertisers feel they should do: whether they should flock to low cost reality channels with higher TRPs or to those which have a better perception in the market. But this year is a defining one in these terms.

So far as the trend is concerned, we have seen the big advertisers stay with the respectable channels and there is no definite trend to show that channels getting higher TRP are necessarily getting more revenue. These channels that are doing serious news are getting good business, even if they are number four or five in TRP terms.

If despite the lower ratings these serious news channels are earning enough revenue to do good business, this so far is a critical point.

But are the low cost reality channels with higher TRPs getting more revenue, or will they do so? This coming year will show that, whether the advertisers take a 'perception' route or a 'rating's route.

If the reality channels start getting revenue in proportion to their market share, then there is no future for serious news in the market

It is time for the agencies to decide whether a good product should be seen on a respectable channel, or on a channel with higher market share but not such a high reputation, and the decisive battle will be on us this year and the coming months will tell us where the market is going.

But so far as the industry as a whole is concerned, one major positive thing this year is the coming of the News Broadcasters Association.

It is because of the NBA that we have been able to send a powerful statement to the government that their content code is not acceptable to us, and despite so much of fragmentation and competition between the various news channels this has happened. I think this is great.

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