There was no mincing of words as a panel discussed ‘The Big Fight for Primetime’ at FICCI Frames in Mumbai, which was hosted from 12 to 14 March. Moderated by Jon Sopel, senior anchor, BBC World News, the discussion featured Vishnu Som, editor and senior anchor, NDTV; Ashok Venkatramani, CEO, MCCS India; and Dr Bhaskar Das, CEO, Zee Media.
The discussion followed a session that featured Times Now’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami.
Som spoke about how shows could be differentiated. He said, “What I value most is quality and class. But is that what people really want at the end of the day? It is my job to provide news and not to provide entertainment. Passion doesn’t necessarily have to be that you’re shouting on screen.”
He added, “If you get over aggressive you’re defeating the purpose of journalism. I don’t think old world journalism is bad. In fact it is far better.”
Responding to whether ‘old world’ channels would then be referred to as fossils, he clarified, “I don’t think it is for a journalist to define what news is. News at the end of it all is information which is defined by a certain circumstance and a particular context. There is a dangerous term called ‘informed opinion’ which journalists use to inflict their words on the viewer.”
Jon quizzed Dr Bhaskar Das on whom would he rather want as an anchor on his channels. Das responded saying, “They (Times Now) have cracked the code; fact remains I’m a commercial man. If something doesn’t get good ratings it is not good content, as I’m not doing charity work out here. If I don’t get my current business model going then I should do something else. If my content does not reflect the aspirations of the viewers, then you cannot monetise it.”
The discussion veered to the pricing divide between English and Hindi news channels. Speakers underlined that all English channels in terms of content and positioning ‘have struck premium’.
On whether there were too many news channels, Venkatramani said, “Yes. In effect there shouldn’t be beyond three. Problem is, not all news channels look at economic benefits as a measurement of their success. So TV news can be a loss maker. It is because news brings with it power and proximity to power.”
Talking about ratings
On the contentious subject of ratings, Venkatramani said, “Revenue depends on how you build a brand. The best way to ensure that people don’t chase TRP is to stop giving it to them; which is what I’ve done in my organisation. I haven’t had a single editorial ratings meet in five years. You have to allow the journalists the space to work in or the brand won’t get built. The day your brand is built people will be willing to pay. There is no problem will the number of channels getting added. The problem is with the absolute number of TV viewing hours per day is coming down which affects the channel’s share in the advertising pie.”
NDTV’s Vishnu Som pointed to the fact that NDTV no longer subscribes to TAM data. And with TV channels relying on advertising revenue, there is an issue of being unable to invest in content, he added.
“Primetime in India has been reduced to talking, and in the Indian context, talk is cheap. This is why you don’t see reporters right now in Malaysia covering that story because that costs money. In the present scenario we’re the ones paying carriers to carry our channel when it needs to be the other way around,” surmised Som.