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News Channels: Sensation-fatigue, government's attitude and regional channels will decide future content

So, as one captain of the industry says, if the advertisers stay with the credible, then some channels will die out and TAM would have to ask itself serious questions, or “there will be no place for it in the Indian TV news market”.

Lastly, come to the Content Code. If anyone feels that the government will wait and wait and not act till the news channels give in their draft, slated for this month end (but one never knows), then it would be foolishness.

This is a precarious position for the ruling UPA and with Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh going the BJP way, it will be even more circumspect in dealing with the media. And yet, it is after all not the parties in power but the bureaucrats who bring out the pending issues in front of successive new ministers and make them do the things they want.

Many bureaucrats –not necessarily just the ones in Shastri Bhavan – have suffered due to stings and for many of them, controlling content is important. So electoral concerns may have made Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh ask I&B minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi to soft pedal for the moment, but the government will ultimately set up the regulator and the code will be in place. At least, that is what Shastri Bhavan insiders have given us to understand.

In the year to come, content will be shaped by a few things, of which the first will be the government’s attitude to it and that will largely be patterned on how the news channels behave vis-?-vis the government. They can do some serious work on their own Code and the chances are that the government will accept it, just as it had adopted the ASCI code for advertisement. However, if the attitude of the NBA is to play footsie with the government, they could well kill their own chances of governing themselves, which is the best thing one can wish for.

The second deciding factor would be what some see as fatigue setting in on sensationalism, which even Naqvi has warned about. The channels themselves are running out of sensational ideas that are new and more importantly, that would last, for all the experiments have at last died, and the pace of mortality of newer ideas is increasing.

The third will be the government’s position on TAM, and it has warned TAM when the CEO failed to turn up for a Parliamentary Committee meeting in Mumbai at the end of this year. If the government – and in all probability it will, because that is a way of controlling content without talking of the much hated Code imposes certain modes of operation and measures TAM must take for rating channels, it will have a direct impact on content.

Last but not least, and though it will take some time, is the massive oncoming growth of regional channels and their own niche content that would drive the mainstream channels to do a hard rethink.

For the moment, the proponents of serious journalism are assured, with IBN 7 seeking relief in the fact that they did touch 14 per cent and are doing better business than rival India TV; NDTV seeing market assurance from the fact of its grossing the second tallest figures, and CNN-IBN as well as NDTV going into the diversification drive emphasising that the serious guys are not about to fall by the wayside.

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