Television

“Media today is suffering from ideological corruption”: Tulsidas Bhoite

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Mi Marathi, a Marathi news channel has been working hard to gain cognizance since its revamp from an entertainment channel to a news channel in March 2014. The channel, after a year of constant endeavour to connect with the viewers, has become the chart topper in the Marathi news space.

At the forefront of Mi Marathi is a team of veteran journalists and among them is the channel’s managing editor Tulsidas Bhoite.  

Bhoite started his career in 1992 in print media. It was in 2000 that he moved to electronic media with his debut stint at ETV. He has worked with leading channels like Zee Marathi, IBN7, Star Majha, Zee 24 Taas, TV 9 and Jai Maharashtra.

Indiantelevision.com’s Seema Singh spoke to Bhoite about the transition of Mi Marathi from an entertainment channel to a news channel, the challenges and much more.

Excerpts:

What was the reason behind converting the entertainment channel Mi Marathi to a news channel?

I think it was a wise decision by the management. I travel a lot with all segments of people, be it with commoners or professionals from different field. As per my analysis, there is space for more than 10 news channels in Maharashtra. The market here is quite weak in terms of both revenue and TRP, and so far, not a single channel has tapped the market fully. Currently with seven players in the region, we have only just managed to tap 50 per cent of the market.

How did the transition take place? What happened to the GEC employees?

We haven’t removed a single employee from any department because we didn’t want to write-off any people. Everyone has their own talent, and it was our duty to cultivate that talent for the betterment of the channel. We decided to use GEC talent for news and fortunately the management allowed us to do that. As the pace of work in a news channel differs from that of a GEC, we do face the problem of speed but our employees are coping and trying to change their functioning style.

When the management decided to relaunch the channel as a news channel, they started hiring best professionals from the industry. The hiring process is still on and we have on board the three best faces from the industry in Kumar Ketkar, Nikhil Wagle and Bharatkumar Raut.

We are hiring more talent from the news industry now. Even today, we do not have any technical backup like the other news channels, because of the space crunch. Plans are also afoot to shift to a new office and buy more technical equipments. With no technical support and just 60 per cent workforce as compared to the other news channels, I think we have been doing a fairly good job.

How is the management-employee relationship in the company? Are employees involved while taking decisions?

We ask our employees to give ideas. We may or may not accept the ideas, but we always ask people to participate in the ideation process. In fact, Jhingroo, the icon created by the channel during elections, was the idea of our creative team, which is still being appreciated by many.

Being the seventh player in the market, what was the strategy to attract viewers? 

Yes, we entered the market as the seventh player in the regional news space in March 2014. In order to remain relevant in the space, we had to create a new market for ourselves. As I mentioned, there is a large part of Maharashtra, which is still uncovered by news channels. So our strategy was to create a new segment for ourselves in the news market and also grab existing viewers of other news channels.

We decided to cover news differently. For example in Mumbai, channels generally cover Mantralaya when it comes to politics, stock market for financial and a select two or three theatres or multiplexes when it comes to entertainment news. We changed this. We sent our cameras to that part of the society, where others hesitated. The news industry generally works on a myth of the up market and down market. But if you see, only 10 per cent of the news channel viewer comes from the so called up market strata.

Even in the rural parts of Maharashtra, channels focus on the sugar belt of Pune or Nasik. We completely changed that. We always cover every news right from rural to urban, from upper to middle to lower middle class. And I’m not saying this because I’m a journalist, but this is the most practical approach. Even advertisers want to cater to the rural markets these days.

What were the challenges you faced when you entered the market?

The first challenge that came our way was that no one wanted to accept us as we weren’t big faces, when we launched. Traditional leaders thought we could not carry on the channel. But when we applied our strategies to run the channel, after four months they started taking cognizance of the channel.

What did you do right to get to the number one position?

Firstly, the selection of issues and subjects to cover. Secondly, we consider the opinion of each person in the team as important. Thirdly, when others are trying to think on an issue, we have already acted on it. We connect our channel directly to viewers, from all segments. We are always trying to give them a say in each and every programme. To understand the pulse of the audience, we never forcefully apply our views on the audience. We give the audience a chance to express their opinion.

What’s your Target Group?

While we don’t focus on one TG, we look at targeting the 15-45 year olds. For example, our character Jhigroo, resonates not just with politicians, but also the younger generation, who while are not too interested in politics or the news, but like the animated character. We want to catch the young audiences.

How did you ensure that you did not lose out on your viewers from the entertainment channel, while making new ones in the transition?

Most channels apply the ‘Hot Cut’ policy. But during the relaunch, we did not make the mistake of ‘Hot Cut.’ So while a show was on air, we did not cut the programme to go on air on something that was happening now because that could have harmed us. So we used the phase out process. We kept 50 per cent programming and 50 per cent news from September 2013 to March 2014. And from March, we relaunched fully as a news channel and we continue treating news in a different way. A lot of emphasis is being given to the presentation of the news, despite lacking on the technical front.

How do you plan to maintain the number one position?

When we announced the relaunch in the newsroom, I had said ‘our struggle is man vs machine.’ While content is the king, distribution plays a crucial role and we are hoping to expand our reach.

My aim is to not just get good numbers. My ultimate goal is that the channel should be cognizable, right from the top person to someone sitting in the rural area. People should know the channel and the content. Number one, two doesn’t really matter.

We would like to capture 50 per cent of the market to be able to do more experiments with the content.

What are the challenges in the Marathi news space?

In Maharashtra, people are open to other languages, and so we have to compete with Hindi news channels as well. Our strategy is to go to people, pick up their issues and give them a voice.

Do you think advertisers should put in more money in regional channels? Is there scope?

There is an untapped market in Maharashtra. However, when it comes to news genre, I don’t think any sales team in any of the channels has the potential to tap that huge market, and this includes my channel. There is a need to set up that team. We need to look at people with good ideas, who can tap that market.

The logo has remained the same even after the relaunch. Any plans to change that?

We thought on that. The creative team has created a different logo as well, but for now we will stick to the current logo. Our communication from class to mass shows that they like our current logo.

Are you looking at revamping the channel?

My team is currently struggling with the limited resource. But we need to move to a new space and as soon as we find that space, we will have two studios and better equipment and lighting. The revamp will be in the next six months.

We are also working towards bringing in more graphics in the next 15 days. We will not stick to a single rule of programming. Adding more content to the channel is an unending process. We are making rules, only to break them.

How has Nikhil Wagle’s presence helped the channel?

If you study our viewership pattern, we are equally distributed throughout the day, from 3 pm to 11 pm. We wanted to strengthen our 9 - 10 pm time band and so when Nikhil Wagle agreed to join our channel, we offered him that time band. He has his own followers in Maharashtra, and that cannot be denied. Our mood and his is the same and that helps the channel a lot.

How many journalists and bureaus do you currently have?

In all over Maharashtra, we have nine bureaus and we will increase that to 12 in the next three months.

Of the nine, seven are connected by lease lines. We will also start our studios in the next three months. We want to give our correspondents in these studios an opportunity to handle their own small shows on regional basis.

In Mumbai, we have a team of 12 reporters and 20 camerapersons and out of Mumbai we have 60 reporters and 30 camerapersons.

What’s your take on prime time debate?

When deciding the strategy for the channel, I think like a viewer and not like a journalist. People are fed up of debates and that’s a fact. Fortunately, we only have one debate showPoint Blank hosted by Wagle, who is a man of content.

We take only four people on the panel in order to give proper time to each one to represent their point of view. Media is suffering from ideological corruption. We are media, we are supposed to give equal opportunity for people to give their opinion. There should be discussion and not debate.

Vir Sanghvi had once said, “We don’t have news channels, we have low cost entertainment channels.” But I think people are fed up of such low cost entertainment and so we are trying to deliver hard core news.

If you check our ratings, we aren’t getting good ratings for any of our entertainment shows.

Have you subscribed to BARC? Will you be discontinuing your TAM subscription? 

We haven’t yet subscribed to BARC, but we will. We haven’t taken a decision on whether we will continue with TAM or not. We may continue with both TAM and BARC.

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