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Debates continue to reap rewards for Eng news channels on prime time

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MUMBAI: Prime-time shows on Indian English news channels have struggled to budge from their reliance on the debate format. In spite of access to new technologies, the content of the programming during the slot has largely remained the same. Even the allure of virtual reality (VR) and the latest production techniques have failed to wean viewers from the formulaic nature of debates.

It was NDTV that was the first to make use of VR videos online. In July 2017, Republic TV followed suit. The news broadcaster announced its intent to form a VR production studio to create a set of 10-series VR news stories for digital. Soon after, Times Network also began to take rapid strides in that direction with 3D 360-degree video-based VR and Google’s 180-degree VR format. Moreover, in December 2017, NDTV came up with a turnaround plan to improve profitability that involved reducing the workforce by up to 25 per cent and increasing its reliance on accessible technology such as mobile journalism.

Times Now with the Newshour Debate, hosted by Rahul Shivshankar, and Republic TV with The Debate at 9 pm, steered by Arnab Goswami, touch upon current, political and social issues that take place in the country with eminent personalities from diverse fields on the panel.

Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani says that the channel’s primetime format is giving them an edge over others. “Our primetime format is working beautifully for us and giving us a leadership against all of the channels. When Arnab is on air, we have 45-60 per cent market share between 9-11 pm. We have an overall market share of 35-45 per cent which is better than other channels’ primetime shows also. Republic is also working in building the second line at 8 and 8:30 pm shows with other big anchors like Parikshit Lutra and Shivani Gupta.”

Mirror Now has made an entry in the top-five list of Broadcast Audience Research Council’s (BARC) all India data in week 6 this year for the first time. The channel’s primetime shows include The Urban Debate at 9 pm and The Last Word at 10 pm. At every stage of the debate, viewers will poll on whether they agree with the panellists or not. The show zooms in on and discusses the problems faced by the citizens of the country, including topics ranging from civic apathy and crimes against women.

At the time of the launch of The Last Word in November last year, Mirror Now executive editor Faye D’souza said, “The idea behind our new 10 pm show is to raise issues that are pertinent to viewers and force the authorities to answer and act. We have cultivated a loyal viewership by showcasing subjects that affect day-to-day lives of urban Indians.”

CNN News18 has a different approach to its primetime show called Viewpoint hosted by anchor Bhupendra Chaubey. He explores the top-five news stories and interacts with a panel that provides its opinions. Furthermore, he also connects with viewers through social media to get their inputs. The other show Epicentre is hosted by Shreya Dhoundial and Marya Shakil where they present the latest issues and talk to experts and prominent individuals.

Chaubey said that the show will be driven by graphics and facts. “We are trying to bring the focus back to facts and we are hoping that, over a period of time, it will grow. Once people get used to the offerings that we have, the CNN News18 primetime will go a long way in just establishing the channel’s share. Right now, our market share for the primetime slot is 20-30 per cent.”

India Today TV at 9 pm has a show called News Today, wherein they compile the latest social, economic and political news of the day. The next show is Newsroom wherein Rahul Kanwal, the host, presents the latest social, economic and political news from across the world.

NDTV 24X7 has a show The 9 o’clock News where it shows news devoid of debate and covers all the top stories of the day, including politics, sports, cities, the world and business. The next show at 9:30 pm is Reality Check, which aims to bust myths.

 It seems like the debate show at the prime-time slot works better than any other format. BARC data reflects that four channels in the top-five list have debate shows in their prime-time slot. It is quite unlikely that the Indian audience will move away from the debate format any time soon given the entertainment they generate.

Also Read:

Making the news: A look at what news broadcasters did in 2017

Mirror Now aims to be no. 2 Eng news channel in 2018: Faye D'Souza

BARC week 5: Aaj Tak and Republic TV lead in respective genres

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