News Channels:2004 - The Year that was.


News (channels) continued to make news. And, that seemed to be the underlying theme throughout 2004 for the news genre. Whether it was the revised uplinking norms for news channels or intense poaching of personnel (mostly from Aaj Tak) or the ratings warfare, the news channels were in the thick of action. There was no dearth of events too --- from the general elections (where most news channels got their calculations wrong) to Sonia Gandhi's refusal of the prime ministership despite being the head of the single largest political party to court room dramas to natural disasters, they were all there keeping the likes Aaj Tak, NDTV India, Zee News, NDTV 24x7 and Sahara Samay busy.


To give you a glimpse of the action-oriented year that was, here's a fast rewind.

Continuing its stranglehold over the top slot amongst Hindi news channel in the country, Aaj Tak turned three on 31 December, 2003 and almost ended up throwing a gala bash on its fourth birthday. Though Star News, launched in a new avtaar early 2003 was in the eye of the storm for all the wrong reasons, finally got the government nod for uplinking on 1 January, 2004. Within a fortnight of this development, came the news that TV Today Television Network news director Uday Shankar was all set to join Star News as editor and director of news from February, 2004. Later in the day (August to be precise), Shankar became the officiating CEO of MCCS, the company that manages Star News, with Star News' president Ravina Raj Kohli's exit (some say it was a very sweet parting, though professionally may be a bit humiliating).

Taking a leaf out of telecom czar Sunil Mittal's philosophy to be present in every nook and corner of the country with his cellular network, NDTV India went ballistic promoting its new tagline 'Zubaan Pe Sach, Dil Mein India' to connect with the Hindi heartland early 2004. Country's first Hindi news channel, Zee News, too was looking to do the same, but through its programming, especially during the general elections that was held in three phases and gave ample chance to news channels to display their talents or the lack of it.

Thankfully, Doordarshan News, which always lives in the shadow of a sudden death depending on the whims and fancies of the government of the day, managed to hold its own despite generating some controversies over hiring and firing of people from private satellite channels. The channel did undergo a face-lift in January when the general elections loomed large, which included personnel from the private sector, slightly modified logo, new graphics, montage and several new shows.

Then came the news, early this year that Shri Adhikari Brothers owned SAB TV was firming up plans to start a current affairs channel with Madhavi Mutatkar (former president of Zee TV) at the helm of affairs. Considering the Adhikari brothers adeptness at being on the right side of the powers that be, rumours were rife that Hindustan Times debonair editor Vir Sanghvi, Karan Thapar and Smriti Z Iraani would be roped in for similar shows on the new channel. However, no official comment from the company was forthcoming. Though the likes of Sanghvi and former home minister LK Advani's daughter Pratibha host shows on Sab TV, neither new rumours nor the current affairs channel surfaced in 2004.

Al-Jazeera MD Wadah Khanfar and India TV chairman Rajat Sharma

While various mini dramas were being enacted all over the news genre, a new player stepped in quietly in the already cluttered Hindi news channel space when Rajat Sharma turned a broadcaster from a TV content producer by launching India TV. The channel's claimed USP was that it was different from other news channels that got amplified in its anchors too - controversial promoter of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, and former union minister and environment activist Maneka Gandhi host shows for India TV. Coupled with a wide network of reporters, state-of-the-art infrastructure and a late-year exclusive content agreement with the controversial Arabic-language Al Jazeera, India TV wanted to storm into Aaj Tak and NDTV India's bastion.

All these efforts definitely got India TV wah-wahs and some ratings too, but the distribution continues to remain a problem, though it is one of the news channels that is on the country's first DTH platform.

At the top, they say, it can become quite lonely at times. So, watching from above, Aaj Tak started feeling a bit left out and decided to give itself a face lift that was affected in September wherein it changed its logo too. The plan being to emerge with a fresh new image, spirit and getting on to the next level of news broadcasting with a bottom-up approach to reach the class after having conquered the mass.

Subhash Chandra's Zee Telefilms Limited first soft-launched its business news channel on Zee's direct-to-home (DTH) television service, Dish TV, in July, but on being challenged by the government on the clearance front, it hastily withdrew the channel. Finally, on 30 November, Zee Business went on air without much hullabaloo again on all platforms, but after having got the necessary permissions that came after the news channel business was hived off into a separate company called zee News Ltd. Is it being seen widely? Sometimes keeping mum is the better part of diplomacy.

Sahara continued to be predictable. It flattered to deceive after its news channels slumped post early histrionics. Early December, Sahara effected further changes and merged all the bureaux of the region-specific and national news channels in order to bring in more synergy and avoid duplication of responsibilities.


Jo Jita wohi Sikander (he who wins is Alexander). Certain aberrations and phases, notwithstanding, Aaj Tak continued to rule, though it's another story that competition is snapping at its heels and is too close for comfort.

Coming to the channel shares of the Hindi news channel through January to December 2004, Aaj Tak began the year with a channel share of 1.71 in January in the CS4+ Hindi speaking markets (HSM), according to Tam data. NDTV India, on the other hand, began the year modestly with a channel share of 0.8 in the above mentioned market. Star News and Zee News captured a channel share of 0.71 and 0.67, respectively. Sahara Samay National stood with a score of 0.38 per cent and DD News had a channel share of 0.7.

A trend that was seen in the channel shares of Aaj Tak and NDTV India from February to April was that while Aaj Tak's share dipped through the three months, NDTV India's picked up. From 1.71 per cent in January, Aaj Tak's channel share dipped to 1.67, whereas NDTV India climbed from 0.8 to 1.18 (its highest in the year) during the same time period.

The hot months of April and May saw competition hotting up as far as the Hindi news channels Aaj Tak, NDTV India and Star News were concerned. The general elections in May saw Congress emerging as the undisputed leader; Aaj Tak too followed suit as far as the Hindi news channels were concerned. The channel garnered a share of 2.28 in May (the highest ever in 2004 as far as any news channel was concerned). NDTV India on the other hand managed a share of 1.7, Star News got 1.29, Zee News 1.04, DD News 0.83, whereas Sahara Samay National had a channel share of 0.62, according to data provided by Tam. On the other hand, Rajat Sharma's India TV, which launched around the same time, managed a channel share of 0.01 per cent.

The month of June saw a dip in the overall channel shares of Hindi news channels with the exception of India TV (0.06). From June onwards, NDTV India was northward bound and ate into Aaj Tak's share. However, the market leader managed to hold on. When we look at the disparity in the channel shares of NDTV India and Aaj Tak from the beginning to the end of the year 2004, the picture definitely tells a tale. NDTV India started in January with a channel share of 0.8 per cent and ended the year in December with 1.16. In contrast, Aaj Tak, which began 2004 with a share of 1.71, ended at 1.75.

Star News did manage to appreciate a little, but the promise with which it had started could not be maintained. Starting with a channel share of 0.71 per cent in January, it climbed the ladder to close with 1.03 per cent in December. Zee News, on the other hand, managed to get its act together to end the year with a channel share of 0.9 per cent in December, riding on the Gudiya episode that saw its ratings go up, though many felt that Zee News had turned a serious affair into a mockery. Sahara Samay National remained more or less constant in its share through the year.


Coming to the English news channels scenario in the country where the race for the top spot was prominently between NDTV 24x7 and Headlines Today. In September, Aaj Tak's English sibling, which was lying low on the media front until now, rolled up its sleeves and geared up for competition by launching a 360 degrees media campaign. The campaign was focused on six metros and had a consistent message of 'News, crisply told' across all media and executions. Coupled with some aggressive distribution initiatives, Headlines Today built upon its image of news with accuracy, integrity and speed, but minus lengthy analysis.

CNBC- TV 18 beefed up its evening line-up early this year. The business channel underwent a programming revamp and focused on the 6:30 pm to 11 pm band through current affairs programming hosted by the likes of Karan Thapar and veteran journalist MJ Akbar.

NDTV 24x7, on the other hand, went the business way in August and made good use of time to try out business programming before the launch of its business channel that is slated to happen on 17 January. This initiative not only bring it almost at par with the country's then only business news channel, CNBC -TV18, but gave its personnel and staffers enough time to hone their talents at business related programming.


The introduction of NDTV 24x7's new business slot brought it close to CNBC. According to Tam data for August, while CNBC TV 18 was ahead almost throughout the month with a channel share of 40.4 per cent in the CS4+ segment for the time period 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays, towards end-August, NDTV 24x7 managed to break the stranglehold to command a channel share of 33.3 per cent.

The foreign news channels continued to be fringe players in the space with BBC World's channel share standing at 0.1 per cent, whereas CNN was down the ladder with 0.06 per cent.

Since July this year, there has been no looking back for NDTV 24x7 as it continued to maintain its top position in the English news channel space. In December, the channel commanded a share of 0.47 as opposed to CNBC's 0.23 in the CS AB 15+ five metros (excluding Chennai) as per Tam data. Headlines Today, on the other hand was a close third with a channel share of 0.21.


If 2003 was the year when a slew of general news channels were launched, late 2004 and 2005 would see similar activity in the business news channel segment.

TV18 and NDTV have announced their foray into the Hindi business news channel space and spruced up Hindi programming on their respective channels to gear up for the same. While TV18's new channel, in association with CNBC, will be called Awaaz, NDTV's will be called Profit. The former also announced in May that it would raise Rs 500 million to boost expansion plans and roped in Sahara Samay's star anchor Shireen for the new venture. Profit, on the other hand, will be headed by Vikram Chandra and is aiming at giving more of the same, but with a lot of credibility.

The print media companies too seem to have been dazzled by the glamour of the electronic medium as several of them made forays into this space. First, Madhya Pradesh-based Bhaskar group started a cable-delivered channel and then its competition, the Uttar Pradesh-based Dainik Jagran Group, announced launching a Hindi news channel in March 2005. The company has roped in former Sahara Samay national news channel head Arup Ghosh as the director of news for its yet-to-be-named news channel, which will be uplinked through an Insat satellite from Noida.

Apart from this, The Times of India Group also announced its plans to venture into the business and news channels space. Though activity in this proposed business news channel is at a nascent stage, barring few appointments being made, it has an experienced person at the helm of affairs - former NDTV news editor Arnab Goswami as the vice president - news and editor. The Rs 25-billion Delhi-based Senior Group of Companies announced its plans to launch a channel, but the plans were put into the backburner after the promoters had differences with editorial head, Santosh Bharatiya.


Moving away to some of the special endeavours that news channels undertook, while other players in the news genre were haggling over male eyeballs, Sahara Samay looked at roping in women and children viewers to broaden its viewership base. Sahara Samay Mumbai beefed up its afternoon band from 12 January 2004 and rolled out programmes targeted at women audiences.

Towards the latter half of 2004, Star News launched a show with a difference that was a take off on the mush and gush on the entertainment channels. Saas Bahu Aur Saazish - Kyunki Har Serial Kuch Kehta Hai on Star News, again targeted at women, is doing well as far as ratings go.

Crime shows on news channels, on the other hand, were the talk of the town as far as this year was concerned. Almost all news channels rolled out more than one crime special which rated high in the numbers game. It is another thing that most of these crime shows focus more on the flesh trade and murders in various smaller towns, which, according to the police in some places, has added to their problems.


The issue of news channels uplinking from India, revised and announced in March 2003, continued to simmer throughout 2004 with an ambivalent government aiding media companies in getting more time to conform to the revised guidelines that cap foreign investments in news channel ventures at 26 per cent.

The deadline has been extended already twice and soon may become a laughing stock. Unless the government pulls out an ace in the form of a comprehensive regulatory legislation.

It also hasn't been a bad year for new listings. The Aroon Purie-controlled TV Today Network was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) on 16 January, 2004 and was over subscribed 35 times. NDTV's Rs 1 billion IPO, which opened on 21 April, was oversubscribed 36+ times when it closed on 28 April. And, having made an audacious bid for the Indian cricket telecast rights for $ 308 million, Zee Telefilms too played the markets well.


Ideally critics would say that this should be the time for shakeout and some consolidation, but the way things are going shakeout seems to be still quite a distance away. Take, for example, Media Content and Communications Services India Pvt. Ltd's (a joint venture between ABP TV and the Star Group) decision to start a Bengali news channel and follow it up with a crime news channel. Still in the realm of speculation, but these are indications that launches would not abate in 2005. Not to mention a Bengali channel from the Sahara stable too.

How many of these new launches are more influenced by political decisions is anybody's guess, considering both the promoters of Sahara and ABP group (the majority partners in MCCS) are politically connected and would like to leverage such connections.

However, 2005 should see some radical changes taking place in the news channels' editorial policy. A stunt here and a stunt there may have brought in the ratings, but the news channels have to decide once and for all whether they would like to increase their credibility, a la BBC, or continue to reduce the concept of 'breaking news' and 'exclusives' to the level of a joke. Gustakhi maaf, news is certainly not a laughing matter. Especially not when it concerns the fate of a child torn between two men in his mother's life or pandering to political bosses' whims.

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