Ananya Saha
Jul 31, 2014

Double Standards: Are celebrity news anchors a double-edged sword?

Sunil Lulla, CMD, Grey Group India, and Ravi Rao, leader, South Asia, Mindshare, reflect on TV news anchors becoming bigger audience magnets than channels

Double Standards: Are celebrity news anchors a double-edged sword?
News channel brands versus news anchor brands... your first thoughts.
Sunil Lulla (SL): I believe news must first establish and gain credibility and viewer engagement, before it can build loyalty for the channel, content or anchor. That is the most fundamental aspect of news. It takes time to build it and the patience and viewer focus required is of paramount importance.
Ravi Rao (RR): Leaders can mould and direct dramatic difference in an organisation and then there are times when the organisation dominates individuals as well. For instance: IBM, P&G - these organisations are much bigger than any individual. But in case of Virgin Group, one individual stands out. It depends totally on the individuality and power of tribe that one big leader brings about, which can overpower an organisation.
Do popular news anchors help news channels get more viewers?
SL: Credibility and trust comes first. The context of the news is really important and that in turn leads to popularity. There is always fan following, but content, trust and credibility come first.
RR: Popular news anchors definitely help channels get continued viewers. If you look at Arnab Goswami, a good majority may say they like him, they love to watch him. And there is a good majority that may say we detest him but yet tend to watch him. He has a unique trend and a style, and he does what he does very well.
Do they help create channel loyalty?
SL: As long as they deliver on the criterions already mentioned, yes, they can grow the channel’s popularity.
RR: News viewing is also like newspaper reading. It becomes habitual appointment viewing. It’s not news per se, but views that become more important when you speak of an anchor and the role he or she plays. Because of this, there is always turbulence when a celebrity news anchor walks out of a channel. When a newspaper changes size or font, you see people (readers) walking out. Your masthead becomes a comfort zone for a lot of readers over a period of time.
What happens to viewership when the ‘celebrity’ host quits? Is the impact long-term?
SL: If the show was just about the anchor - tough luck. An anchor is not a solo act. There is an entire production and programming machinery behind the anchor, which makes the individual the star. It is the channel’s reach and brand that builds these individuals.
RR: In CNN, Rizawan Khan was a popular anchor. When he moved to Al Jazeera, there was a big drop in ratings for a while until it started picking up again.  Another example is Larry King Live on CNN that was going on very well in the US. Then Piers Morgan came on. The prime time slot saw its biggest drop in ratings in 21 years. When you do build the viewership around a person, it is more effective than building it around programming itself.
Do news channels have to consciously invest in multiple faces of the channel? Have Indian news channels managed to do that?
SL: (This would be) A smart thing to do. There is choice in most channels but the share of voice is focused usually on one or two.
RR: I think it is tough for only one reason. Can you afford to pay top dollar, and have polarised high-end anchors? Certain large channels like CNN and BBC continue to do it. They have multiple anchors that have done exceedingly well and continue to do so. In our current context when most of the news channels in the country rarely make profits, it is going to be a tough commercial choice to have (multiple) newscaster stars.
Should flagship shows be shared among multiple anchors? Or would that lead to loss of stickiness?
SL:  Certainly. In addition, having multiple anchors leads to no loss, if it is news credibility and trust that delivers!
RR: I do not think so. The moment you do multiple anchors, you lose focus. When a person leaves, there is a strong chance that it will have an impact unless there is another good number two who can take on instantly and create the same kind of difference.
Are we witnessing that the anchor or interviewer is bigger than the show or channel? Is that how it should be?
SL: The marketing may be skewed. Nevertheless, the viewers are smarter.
RR: Sometimes yes. Certain individuals have the charisma and make it larger than life - than the channel itself. Therefore, the channel is more synonymously associated with the anchor rather than vice versa. It always happens. Was Steve Jobs bigger than the Apple? At some point, yes. If you look at Berkshire Hathaway, the one name that stands out is Warren Buffet. Is Buffet more famous that Berkshire Hathway? Yes. Tomorrow if Buffet moves on, there is obviously a strong string of second-or-third-rung people to take it on. Ajit Jain is one of the real dynamos behind the success of Berkshire Hathaway, but is he more famous than Buffet? The answer is no. That is what happens with TV channels, and everything else.
(Published in the issue of Campaign India dated 25 July 2014.)
Campaign India

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