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2019 - A year of high action for the television news industry

The year saw several events spike up viewership for the genre.

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Back in the day, a typical morning in an Indian household was incomplete without a cup of tea and a hefty printed newspaper. This might sound primitive to the current generation of digital natives but newspapers were, and, in fact, still are, a key source of news for many people.

Over the last four decades, television and then the internet has changed the way we consume news. From one state-owned Doordarshan and a handful bulletins in the 70s, we have come a long way. While television is enjoying significant engagement, the mobile-first generation is consuming news through their smartphones.

The fact that of the 880+ private channels in the country, 45 per cent are classified as news channels is a ringing endorsement of how television continues to be the preferred destination when people want to consume news that impacts their lives.

News, especially television news is event-driven. 2019 proved to be a defining year for the television news industry as a whole. The year saw some of the biggest attention-grabbing events - General Elections, sports events such as ICC Cricket World Cup, terror strikes and counter-measures, passing away of popular political personalities, landmark rulings and parliamentary decisions etc. This year saw it all and had a large number of Indians watching the news. So much so, that not only English and Hindi news segment experienced high viewership, the entire news genre expanded its total viewership in the television universe.

Elections clearly drive a strong spike in viewership of news channels. This year’s general elections was a huge event with a staggering 900 million prospective voters, resulting in the largest democratic exercise in the world. According to BARC India, counting day on 23 May brought an all-time high viewership for the English news channels. It alone led to an increase of 90 per cent versus the average of the previous four weeks with over 10 million people watching news in the last week of the elections.

With the advent of technology, the consumption patterns have also evolved. It has proved to be a disrupting force across sectors and television is no exception. It has changed the way people interact with news while also enabling news channels to explore innovative solutions to engage with their viewers. At News18 Network, our technology platform has a comprehensive back-end catering to the entire content value chain from information collection to processing and presentation and further to distribution to all our news channels& digital/mobile platforms.

During General Elections, we deployed systems for end-to-end data collection, processing, and dissemination that no other TV channel or media house did. Our massive strength of 1200 on-ground reporters spread across counting centres in the country led to fastest & authentic results. We also brought into play ELEX – A, a technological platform that captures all the relevant data pertaining to voting by the electorate, analyses it and applies algorithms to render a virtual display of a map with factual results. ELEX-A was used to provide viewers with a bird’s eye view of the exit polls and election results plotted over the map of India as AR graphics.

On the counting day, we deployed ‘Magic Wall’, an analytical tool that uses artificial intelligence for election programming and result presentation. It was developed in association with CNN America. Powered by research done at the constituency level by the extensive News18 network, this innovative tool helped the breakdown of LIVE results based on parameters like demographics, industrial growth, farmer distress, millennial influence, impact of government schemes etc. These factors allowed our network to breakdown and explain the result and its impact on the viewers. This enabled us to present the results fast with impeccable clarity and accuracy.

Today, integrated broadcast and digital newsroom operations generate a high level of synergy underneath, driving high-energy output for our shows. We have a very engaging line-up of shows and reporting from every corner of the nation. Social media has added another dimension to our reportage and engagement with live viewer interaction. Keeping viewers at the core of our content strategy, we also revamped our primetime line-up on CNN-News18 recently to make it more relevant for our viewers, increase their interaction through crisp news coupled with in-depth analysis.

As viewers enjoy multiple choices in the news genre, driving loyalty is the key. However, events of national and regional importance and the resulting growth in viewership impact advertiser interest and revenues. The year 2019 has delivered high revenues in the news segment. That said, the effect also depends on the nature of the events. For instance, for general news category, the impact of Elections is far greater than the Union Budget, which is more of a business event.

Elections are always a period of hyperactivity for the news channels. During this time, the pricing and the advertising fills both went up in the general news category. The counting day phenomenon alone delivered far more eyeballs than the IPL, one of the most-watched and televised events in the country.

The news genre accounts for around 12.5 per cent of the total TV viewership and continues to be of interest for most categories. The segment not only attracts the male audience – considered the core target audience – but also female viewers who comprise almost 49 per cent viewers, as per BARC.

News is consumed by influencers and decision-makers across sectors and industries. From CEOs and shareholders to trade audiences and regulators, everyone consumes news. As I said, during elections, viewership from across segments and regions goes up significantly and hence, the segment presents a lucrative opportunity to the advertisers and marketers. It reflects the dynamism and the constantly evolving nature of the television news and the consumers.

Over 68 crore people i.e. almost eight out of 10 people tune-into News18 Network. Our clutter-breaking content draws viewers which helps brands achieve business and brand objectives. On the back of the scale and the reach, we have been able to provide the advertisers seamless brand integrations in the reportage.

Moving forward we know that consumer attention will further become a scarce resource. We will ensure that our content delivery mirror’s changing consumption habits across screens – TV or mobile to create an enriching experience for our consumers. We will continue to undertake frequent consumer immersions to identify how they are consuming content so that we can always be part of their conversations.

(The author is CNN-News18 English/Business cluster CEO. The views expressed are his own and Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to them.)

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