News Heads For A Shake-Out In India
In May this year Hindi news channel Zee News debuted a new tagline Zara Sochiye, or Pause to Think, casting itself as a provider of serious news in an increasingly crowded segment. Zee marshalled news heavyweights such as veteran TV journalist Punya Prasoon Bajpai to give substance to its new positioning, reinforced with a new look, a new program line-up, and a supporting ad campaign to make sure viewers knew about the changes.
“In the quest for quick TRPs, Hindi news channels have off late lost relevance by trivializing content,” explains the channel’s CEO Barun Das. “We believe hard news need not be uninteresting.”
The revamp should give Zee News a distinctive character that helps draw in more viewers, Das adds. “So far, sampling trends for newly-launched channels are not so encouraging,” he says. “There is no brand among the Hindi news channels.”
Differentiation is a key issue in Hindi TV news, a segment where critics argue, with some justification, that a logo is the only way to tell most of the channels apart. Unlike general entertainment channels, where a successful show builds a loyal audience base, viewers are more likely to flit between news channels.
It’s also a genre where fresh content rarely stays exclusive for long with formerly new elements, such as comedy segments and true crime dramas, now commonplace. “What matters is the treatment,” says Raj Nayak, CEO, NDTV Media, the ad sales arm for New Delhi Television. “Distinct offerings can be good as well as bad… Some channels focus on the regressive and very few on the progressive.”
Competition is heating up in Indian news, in niches such as business news and regional languages as well as broader genres such as Hindi and English language news. Print is not isolated from this trend – traditional players are launching TV channels, and many have expanded geographically. Delhi-based Hindustan Times has launched in Mumbai and The Times of India has extended to Chennai for instance. Publishing groups like Dainik Bhaskar, in association with Zee, and Bennett Coleman and Co (BCCL) have also introduced new properties, such as DNA and the Mirror series.
A broader definition of news
A key driver behind the current surge in activity is a broader definition of what constitutes news, says Bhaskar Das, executive president at Bennett Coleman.
“From mere political-oriented information, it now includes social, economic, cultural, tribal, celebrity, sports and other facets,” he says. “Due to immediacy of news and its stickiness, catching eyeballs might be easier compared to other genres.”
Differentiation is less of an issue for newspapers, especially as they seek new roles to fill after accepting they can no longer break news. “This enables them to create a distinct brand identity not only vis-à-vis other newspapers but also other mediums like TV, which is limited to content that everyone is beaming,” says Das
Publications are also proving to be more successful in developing niche offerings such as BCCL’s Mirror series, targeted at readers looking for a lighter read, as well as regional editions of financial dailies like The Economic Times and Business Standard. “
One can always identify a niche,” Das says. “The million-dollar question is: ’Is that market worth chasing commercially?’”
This is an edited extract from a full-length feature published in the Q3 2008 edition of The Asia Media Journal.