Television

News ratings on the decline as lockdown eases

Combined impressions of top five channels down

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BENGALURU: News is event-driven. Events drive up viewership of news channels. Elections, disasters, pandemics send news channels into a frenzy.  Coverage, debates, breaking news …., the rapid staccato oratory, hyperbole, events dissected from different angles often leaving messy dregs of the matter, all these antics drive viewership up. Now to the cliché. No other event in television history has affected humanity as the advent of Covid2019 or COVID-19 as most call it. 

The pandemic that this virus has caused has resulted in the largest lockdown in human memory. People stayed at home, worked from there, for there and at there. Commutes to anywhere were suddenly recent memory. Movie halls closed, business, sporting and other entertainment events were canceled as humanity sought shelter in the precincts of home. World economy, economy of countries and states and cities and places took a nosedive as manufacturing, all business, all economic activitiesalmost completely halted. The stock markets, of course, did function and they too went into steep falls, and then recovered with each bit of ‘positive’ news, but they are nowhere near the highs’ of just a few months ago.

The time saved from commuting and the spare time culminated into television, media and entertainment consumption binges like never before. And the shortage of surrealism that soaps created, because fresh content was not being produced, led to viewership increases of channels and genres that had never ever experienced the kinds of viewership peaks that they did during the COVID2019 weeks. News, movies, mythology, classics were tried and tested as the media and entertainment industry tried to offer apprehensive audiences some solace, some time away from reality. Television viewership, reach, average time spent (ATS) rose probably like never before. GECs’ lost viewership share to News and Movies channels, but quickly regained some of the lost eyeballs by airing movies, mythology and classics. Pubcaster network Doordarshan or DD made a viewership coup, a killing of sorts, by airing the original Ramanand Sagar made Ramayanand the B R Chopra made Mahabharat as well as classics from the late eighties and nineties of the previous century. 

Many celebrities including heads and leaders of a few nations contracted the virus. A few succumbed to it. People wanted to know what was happening. Am I safe? Are my family, my parents, my elders, my siblings, my siblings, my pals safe? Could humanity survive the pandemic? Was there a cure, was there a vaccine? News consumption on the ‘idiot box’, on the smart phone, on the laptop or a digital computing device exploded. News on newspapers was often a no-no as some people feared contracting the virus by touching the surface of the newspaper that has to go through so many hands before it is delivered for the reading over a breakfast or a ‘cuppa’. 

Overall news consumption on television trebled to 21 per cent of total television consumption in Week 13 of 2020 as compared to the average consumption between weeks 2 and 4 of 2020 according to Broadcast Audience Research Council of India and Nielsen (BARC-Nielsen) Reports. This was the first full week of the All India Lockdown, or Lockdown 1.0 as it is now called, that commenced on 25 March 2020, which by the way, was just after midway into Week 12 of 2020. BARC-Nielsen have standardized the average data for weeks 2 and 4 of 2020 as the Pre-COVID-19 reference point in their reports.

Week 12 by itself saw Television News viewership surge past the normal – this was the week in which India had the Janata Curfew first and then the announcement of the first All India lockdown by prime minister Narendra Modi. Now a digression – Modi has been one of the biggest viewership draws for News Television, and every time he appeared on television during the lockdown weeks, television consumption lineswent completely off even the new charts!

Please refer to the chart below for Viewership data of the 5 Addresses that Prime Minister Modi has made to the Nation pertaining to COVID-19 (COVID2019) until the time of writing of this paper.

News Television ratings rose phenomenally in the week leading to and during the lockdown period. Overtime, as Indians got used to the idea that staying at home was the one option that would keep them safe from the disease, television viewership started petering down. Events that were out of normal resulted in small spikes in the already ballooned viewership. The chart below shows viewership data of Top 5 News channels for nine of the ten languages for which BARC provides on a weekly basis for Week 1 to 19 of 2020. To make things easier, the author has combined viewership of top 5 News channels in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu News channels into South India, and the combined viewership of Top 5 News channels in Assamese, Bangla, Marathi and Oriya into Regional India. 

Per capita news consumption in South India and other regional markets is higher than in the overall Hindi Speaking Market or HSM. BARC defines HRM as All India excluding the South Indian states of Karnataka (Kannada); Kerala (Malayalam); Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (Tamil); and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (Telugu). TV penetration in South India is also higher than the rest of the country. 

As is obvious from the viewership trends of the Top 5 Channels from the chart below, News consumption in the country in the weeks after Week 13 of 2020 is lower. 

Using the BARC-Nielsen base of average data for Week 2 to 4 of 2020, the All India average for the combined weekly impressions of Top 5 channels for 10 languages (nine mentioned above and English) works out to 1,338.614 billion weekly impressions. As is obvious from the viewership trends of the Top 5 Channels from the chart below, News consumption in the country in the weeks after Week 13 of 2020 is lower. 

Week 12 of 2020 saw the highest consumption of television news across India until the writing of this paper at 5,203.690 million weekly impressions or 388 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 weeks average. This was followed by Week 13 of 2020 with 4,558.658 combined weekly impressions of the top five channels in 10 languages, or about 341 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 week’s average.

Week 18 saw All India News viewership of top 5 channels of the 10 languages drop to 3,499.652 million weekly impressions or 261 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 weeks average. Week 19 of 2020 has seen a further drop to 3,357.073 million weekly impressions or 251 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 weeks average.

Economic stagnations and declines have forced governments across the world to slowly recommence trade, businesses, at least within their own boundaries in a limited way with a number of restrictions. As humans slowly restart work and start and learn to adapt, there will be less and less time for television consumption. At present, a lot of people across the globe, including Indians, are still continuing to work from home. And as a matter of fact, the so called ‘new normal’ which has yet to take a definite shape, may enclose work at home for many businesses and services. The world is likely to work quite differently at least until the pandemic dies out, or there is a cure for it or there is a vaccine or maybe all the three or some other combination of these options and or new ones. Media and Entertainment consumption, which includes news is likely to be quite high, higher anyway that during the pre-COVID-19 period.
 

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