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'A very good year for TV news business, with a huge upside for the industry'

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Yes, whenever there is a boom period, there are problems, and in the long run, there will be consolidation and some channels would peter out, but I would like to believe that the serious players who have come and made a name for themselves would stay.

This was a year when the question was asked where the advertisers were putting their money: trash channels or genuine ones. From the limited perspective of a news channel, particularly Hindi news, I can see that a large number of them have gone the tabloid way: the sex-and-violence route.

I have actually seen a crime show on an important Hindi news channel that said, "Stay with us, and after the break we shall show you a rape"! Now, you cannot have that kind of thing on news, and those of us who are news professionals and journalists will not accept that kind of a thing.

What this has done in the immediate and short term is it has taken away some bits of viewership from serious news. But that shift has not been reflected in revenue accruals. The reason as I see it is quite simple: you cannot possibly have a news channel that can say something like "After the break shall bring you "Rape of the Day" by Hindustan Lever", or whatever other company or big brand. So the advertisers have stayed with the respectable channels.

So in terms of rating you have Aaj Tak at the top and then Star News and some others high up, but in terms of revenue we are still there right at the number two position. Ultimately, no advertiser would like to spend money beyond a point on such shows. So, if there has been an impact on viewership, there is no significant impact on revenues.

Finally, it is going to be hard hitting, proper investigative journalism that will have to come back to the news channels

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There can be no doubt that there is some problem with the rating system (TAM), but the fact is that this is the industry standard. Some of the key components of the system are not clear. It is suspected that some of the people-meter homes have been compromised. For instance, some channels find out which are some of the people-meter homes. They approach those homes and give them a new TV set and say: "You watch whatever channels you want on the new set, but on the old set just run my channel."

Sometimes the rating weightage gets skewed just because of one or two homes in the country. For example if you talk of the English news market, it would be the metros, to start with, and then the larger cities like Hyderabad, or Ahmedabad, etc. But if someone says that an English news channel on a given day has dominated, and that domination has come from Dasua in Punjab, or some small place in Andhra Pradesh, then you would say: "Hey there is something wrong here. That is not your market so how come that one little weightage has totally distorted the picture?"

Besides, TAM has not taken into account the heterogeneity of India, because we are not homogenous, in terms of language, culture etc, like the United States. Indians are so diverse, that people from each state are almost like different races, if I may use that term. Any measurement system has to take these kinds of factors into account. I think it has been a direct copy of a system that works elsewhere in the world, not taking into account the nuances that India has as a nation.

Plus, you have people-meters in just about 8,000 homes, in a country of a billion people. Even for exit polls for a state election, we have sample size of 40,000 to 50,000 voters, and for the general elections we have something up to 200,000 voters as the sample size before you can even remotely forecast anything. These are the pitfalls of the rating system, which needs to become better.

But having said that, TAM is the current industry standard and we shall have to go with it. If it says that on a certain night some news channel was number one, then more or less it works that way. It is another matter that that news channel was then showing a sex show. But that is for the viewer to decide. If he wants to see a sex show in news, it is his choice.

But in the long run I believe that finally, it is going to be hard hitting, proper investigative journalism that will have to come back to the news channels.

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