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Three-way tussle in the English news channel arena

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The English news channel market, unlike the situation existing in the Hindi arena, is not about cutthroat competition and a constant search for new and ever more outrageous attention grabbing news pegs. A three player fight for bragging rights as well as a more broadbased target audience allows for far greater 'traditional news' play among the channels.

A detailed analysis of the English news channels using Tam data (All India, C&S 15+, all day parts) during the one-year period beginning January 2007 reveals that there is no clear leader in the genre.

2007 has seen the number one position baton changing hands between the three - NDTV 24x7, CNN IBN and Times Now more than. Still, looking at average annual relative shares it is NDTV 24X7 that is ahead by a nose with 29.75 per cent. In second spot is CNN IBN with 28.5 per cent average annual relative share, just ahead of Times Now which at 27.25 per cent.

Hovering in a range between 28 and 31 per cent, NDTV 24X7 was in the top position in the February to June period. In July-August, with 28 and 30 per cent respectively NDTV 24X7 lost the crowning position to CNN-IBN. Occupying 28 per cent in November, NDTV 24X7 had to give away the top place to Times Now. It rounded off the year sharing 29 per cent each with Times Now to be in the top place.

On the other hand CNN IBN started the year in the top position with 31 per cent but handed over the reins to NDTV 24X7 thereafter. Picking up in the months of July and August with 32 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, the relative share of CNN IBN started falling drastically and hit 25 per cent in November and 28 per cent in December.

CNN IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai said, "I feel that sometimes too much is inspected of the frills, but making the cake is the real challenge. That is my biggest worry: how do you relentlessly make quality news without getting into the ratings war."

In terms of market share, though Times Now has seen some highs and lows in the year, yet the English news channel has displayed the best progress overall of the three. In its second year since launch, Times Now has been able to break the two-channel shackle in the English news genre.

It started the year with relative share as low as 22 per cent. It gained in February to April period to reach 31 per cent but started slipping down since then dabbling between 25 to 26 per cent. It hit 31 per cent in November and for the first time held the highest position. Even though it fell to 29 per cent in December, yet it retained its top place to end the year on a high note.

Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami said: "Our idea was to get into the minds of the viewer which we successfully did in 11 months of launch in 2006, the year of our launch. The clear target was to become the default news habit of the country. And we closed 2007 as the unquestionable number 1 news channel in India not just in the English news channel space but even when putting Hindi and English news channels together. It is a good feeling. But what gives me satisfaction as a journalist is that we have set the modus operandi. We have broken 90 per cent some of the biggest stories of 2007.

"Newshour at 9 PM is doing well. We are the clear number 1 in this segment. People watch news channels for news. So instead of having niche shows in an important band time, we have news at 6 pm, 9 pm.

"We have our sports show at 8:30 pm. We do not place a show in a particular slot just to compete with others in the same slot. Only a confident channel can do that. I do not pass off as a sports show where two people sit in a studio and keep blabbering. The game is more dynamic," he asserts.

For Hindi News channel market leader Aaj Tak's English sibling Headlines Today though, the story continues to be that of the straggler. With an average annual relative share of 11.6 per cent, it had managed its highest of 14 per cent in November. It gathered 13 per cent each in January, June and August. It has its lowest of 9 per cent in May.

Meanwhile, international news channels BBC World and CNN have an average annual relative market share of 1.3 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively.

Still, as Sardesai correctly points out, the news channel battle is not just about eyeballs but perception. "The future battle will be of perceptions, of influence, or being thought leaders. In CNN IBN. That's been our aim, to be thought leaders," he avers.

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