by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
India Today Television just made it to the top of the English news television heap. Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) data show that the channel that had been inching up on reach had already crossed leader Times Now two weeks ago. This week, it went ahead of Times Now in ratings, too.
While TAM Media research data confirms that India Today TV leads in reach, Times Now is still the leader in ratings according to TAM. “We are confident, given this flying start, that India Today Television will be India’s foremost English news channel in the times to come,” said Ashish Bagga, group chief executive, India Today group.
Analysts said Times Now was bound to react. But Times Television CEO M K Anand declined to comment.
For a channel that spent more than 10 years as Headlines Today, being rebranded as India Today Television on May 23, clearly, seemed to have worked. India Today TV is owned by the Rs 476-crore TV Today Network, which also runs Hindi news channel Aaj Tak. TV Today, in turn, is part of the Rs 900-crore (as of March 2013) India Today Group, which owns the eponymous magazine, among other media businesses.
The big question: Can it sustain its number one position the way sibling Aaj Tak has done for so many years?
Most media analysts pointed out that India Today TV owed its success more to distribution tactics than higher time spent on the channel. Sure, the re-branding and getting on board some names like Rajdeep Sardesai and Karan Thapar helped. But what tilted the scales in India Today’s favour was the use of a dual frequency. This means the channel is at two places, instead of one, on a single cable network.
“Both Times Now and India Today Television are on dual frequency on some of our networks,” said Jagdish Kumar, CEO, Hathway Cable.
Chrome Data Analytics and Media confirmed that India Today TV was last week using dual frequency on 70 cable networks (the highest by any channel) and Times Now on 29. “Dual frequency increases the chances of sampling. It is like buying two or more tickets in a game to improve the chances of success,” said Chrome founder Pankaj Krishna.
However, unless a channel has a strong distribution relationship or compelling content, a second place on the same network doesn’t come free. Just getting one spot (carriage) in a cable system could cost a news channel Rs 18-21 crore a year (excluding carriage fee on DTH). Being on two spots would carry a 50 per cent premium on average, explained Krishna.
Dual feeds are used tactically. For example, a sports channel might choose to be in the general entertainment cluster to get people to sample it. According to Chrome data, 150 of the 800-odd channels in India are currently using two spots on some or the other cable network. These include Zee TV, Max and Discovery.
Eventually, though, “the market share jump will have to come from continuous engagement, which will have to be driven by programming”, said L V Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research. Brand India Today’s credibility, a strong line-up of experienced journalists as key programming drivers, and strong marketing and distribution, “all played an important role”, emphasised Bagga.
The sustainability question is critical because English news is a minuscule 0.04 per cent of all time spent before TV by Indians. Unlike the profitable TV Today, most broadcasters in the overcrowded Rs 2,000-crore news TV market do not make money. The genre’s ability to sustain a high-cost strategy for long, therefore, is suspect.
For now, though, India Today is enjoying this week