COVID-19 boosts news channels’ viewership, but not ad revenue

News channels disapprove equating higher viewership with automatic higher ad revenue

MUMBAI: Over the last few weeks, news channels have ramped up their on-ground operations to ensure that people stay updated, aware and alert on the latest COVID-19 pandemic. Despite going the extra mile, while also maintaining social distancing as well as taking precautions for the health of their employees, the efforts haven’t paid off in terms of advertising revenue.

Times News Network managing director and chief executive officer MK Anand disapproves of equating higher viewership with automatic higher ad revenue. “This misconception has been doing the rounds for the past couple of weeks that news channels are raking it. Ad revenue has got severely affected in the first two weeks of April for all our channels, including news, and the second fortnight also doesn’t look any better. We think this will continue as long as the lockdown is stretched. Our competitive tracking indicates it’s no different for anyone else in the game.”

In news viewership, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India and Nielsen’s third lockdown statistics report, news channels raked in an all-time high growth across languages. The news genre saw 251 per cent growth from the pre-COVID -19 times. Meanwhile, TAM Media Research data shows that the overall ad volume has fallen by 11 per cent in March this year as compared to the same period last year.

Amid the lockdown, the news channels have been put under the essential services category with the aim of helping people keep themselves updated and remain positive. Anand says: “Our programming, currently, is focussed on informing viewers of an extremely important subject - the pandemic - itself, a matter of life and death. And no, we have not gone out to promote packages for ‘Corona sponsorships.”

The News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) has sent out two appeals to the advertising industry. First, it requested brands to support news channels with more ad sales. Last week, it appealed to media agencies and clients not to re-negotiate ad deals. It said that news channels are being compelled to drop their rates by 50 per cent, despite being the only one showing a viewership boost and well as having invested extra resources to ensure that continuous content is generated.

Times Now saw about 113 per cent growth in terms of viewership in BARC week 12 as compared to the previous week.

The country has close to 400 news channels in various languages that are fighting for a small piece of ad revenue. The most impacted during this economic crisis will be the regional news broadcasters.

Mathrubhumi News chief executive officer Mohan Nair believes that ad revenue has dropped by half across news channels in the market. Nair says: “We could have been in the festive mood with Vishu and Easter in April. However, the lockdown has poured water into all our plans.”

Mathrubhumi News is one of the leading Malayalam news channels. The channel, which has jewellery brands as its prominent advertisers, has been showing state governments’ advertisements along with RBI’s messages on the platform for free of cost.

Nair adds: “As a responsible news channel, we aim to shoulder the government’s effort in the fight against COVID-19 and hope to come out of this situation early. Revenue is, of course, important for a broadcaster to run but in these unprecedented times our focus is to keep the audience informed and aware.”

Republic TV chief executive officer Vikas Khanchandani, on the other hand, says that the viewership growth is translating into ad sales - essential goods from the FMCG sector. Republic TV, so far this year, has been the number one channel in the top five English news channels’ list.

“What is not selling right now is automotive and consumer durable goods. The lockdown has, of course, impacted ad sales, but there is a huge rush from app-based companies to advertise on the platform. There are clients from gaming apps, healthcare apps, ed-tech apps along with hygiene brands who want to come on board with the network due to the rising viewership,” he says.

DigitalKites senior vice-president Amit Lall corroborates Khanchandi’s view. “Currently, we are seeing a surge of three digital platforms exponentially: OTT platforms, gaming applications and education apps. As people are locked down in their homes, they either wish to get entertained or upgrade their skills.”

Brands also factor in the kind of content being presented in order to associate themselves. Lall explains: “Big brands believe in contextual marketing and in news channels this phenomenon plays a vital role. No brand will want to be associated with the content or news that is being shown right now, which is sort of negative, during which the sentiments of people are not right.”

Dentsu Aegis Network India chief executive officer Anand Bhadkamkar says, “With 300 per cent rise in viewership over normal time, the advertising rates could have gone over the roof. However, in the current situation, all advertisers are very restrictive with respect to spends.”

“Reliability and comfort are the two things in the consumers’ mind, and brands are likely to become more strategic going forward. The upcoming two quarters are definitely going to be challenging and ad spends itself are going to come down substantially,” Bhadkamkar adds.

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