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RATINGS: Narrowing divide in the English news space

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MUMBAI: If the last six months' TAM ratings in the English news space could tell a story this is what they would reveal:

What started as a one horse market with NDTV 24x7 garnering the lion's share of the pie saw two new entrants with CNN IBN and Times Now. Headlines Today, the English news channel from the TV Today Network continued to be in the shadows of Aaj Tak.

But has the market dynamics changed with Cas in place? Certainly a better picture so far as the niche channels are concerned has appeared post Cas. NDTV 24x7, CNN IBN and Headlines Today have gone pay while Times Now has chosen to stay free-to-air (FTA) at least for the time being.

CNN IBN, which started on a high note and even managed to equal market share with NDTV 24x7 (See table 15 Nov- 15 Dec) has stabilized at the end of one year and occupies the third position with a 20 per cent relative channel share (TG:CS AB 15+ years- 1 January to 13 January/ Market :HSM ). CNN IBN director marketing Dilip Venkatraman would only say that as far as CNN IBN was concerned, despite the numbers, he was confident that the "content quotient" of their channel was bound to bring in viewership. Also the "stickiness of viewership with the channel" is higher, he asserts.

GENRE / CHANNEL 15 JULY - 15 AUG 15 AUG - 15 SEP 15 SEP - 15 OCT 15OCT-15NOV 15NOV-15DEC 15DEC-30DEC 01JAN - 13JAN 07
ENG NEWS - TG: CS AB 15 Years + Market: HSM  
BBC World 0 0 0 0 0 9 5
CNN 8 0 0 0 0 0 5
CNN IBN 23 30 30 27 33 18 20
Headlines Today 15 10 10 9 11 9 15
NDTV 24x7 38 40 40 36 33 36 30
Times Now 15 20 20 27 22 27 25

(Courtesy: TAM Peoplemeter System)

Mindshare managing director Gautaman Raghotama believes that the increase in news channel shares is not so much a reflection of eating into each other's share but eating into the channel shares of GEC. Mindshare is also the media agency for CNN IBN.

Says Raghotama, "There is a definite movement of viewership from general entertainment channels to niche channels and especially news channels. The news genre is increasingly becoming a space for 'infotainemt'. Look at how the Shilpa Shetty controversy was played out across news channels. It was as good as watching Celebrity Big Brother on a news channel."

"Another problem with the English news space is that at present there are no clear differentiatiors. So while the audience is slowly building a loyalty to certain news channels, the tendency is also to watch news on one channel and then breeze through the others for a different point of view."

"With Times Now and Headlines Today there is a connectivity concern."

Despite that concern, it is these two channels that one must watch out for in 2007. Times Now weathered a stormy year, to stabilize at the number two spot with a channel share of 25 per cent (See Table 01 January-13 January 2007). The channel achieved better clarity on its personality as a general news channel by slimming down the business band segment and focusing on what it called the 'Big Story' in the day, mentioned Times Now CEO Sunil Lulla in an interview to Indiantelevision earlier in the week. Times Now also led the pack in the TAM Elite Panel ratings.

It is the minnow of the pack Headlines Today, however, that has switched gears into the fast mode with some good programming. TV Today CEO G Krishnan says, "Unlike General Entertainment Channels that get viewership spikes on tent pole programming - News Channels get a spike during big stories. Headlines Today has been able to effectively look at innovative wrap around content around big stories whether it is cricket, the Shilpa Shetty controversy or Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding to engage the viewers. In addition, shows like Entertainment Quarter, Sports Quarter are doing well for us. This week the time spent and the reach of the channel has increased by 50 per cent. We are definitely on the growth path and it's heartening to note that more viewers are consuming our content for a longer duration."

Assuming that there is a potential clutter in this space would it be easier for network channels to woo the advertiser? Says Krishnan, "Headlines Today as a product caters to the metro-urbanite. Thus an advertiser is able to reach out to the younger metro audiences. From a sales strategy - we are able to optimize revenues by looking at a network approach. Now with the increase in viewership - we are also working on a stand alone strategy to maximize on the revenue opportunity."

What is noteworthy is that the market share for these channels is now more evenly divided. But does a 4-player market spell a cannibalization of the market share?

"I don't think there is a clutter in the news space with four channels in the fray. But is there space for a fifth channel? I would assume not. I don't know if they will be able to garner channel share but what is certain is that the existing players will definitely find it tough," says Gautaman.

Madison Media Group CEO Punita Arumugam looks at the scenario optimistically as far as the ad pie is concerned?

"Yes, the ER and growth rate will get affected but the genre itself will grow. Take a look at what's happened in the kid's channels market or the Hindi movies market. The market also grew as the players increased."

It's anybody's story so far as English news goes and each one of them must be looking at increasing channel share. But isn't the English news channel market a niche within a niche segment.

Counters Arumugam, "As far as the viewers are concerned what would happen is that as more and more choices are available within a particular genre, fragmentation is inevitable. But personally I don't think this will affect any of the channels adversely."

"If you consider the profile of new advertisers that is already happening as the market sees an explosion. The FMCG sector is looking at this genre more aggressively. Also a healthy competition between the four channels would see advertising rates become more competitive."

Gautaman agrees that FMCG players are moving out of the GEC bracket and looking at niche channels."The English news channels targeted at the affluent, metro consumers will certainly benefit from this shift. Local operators and retail clients will also look at this genre closely. Besides much of this money will have to come from GEC's and other media options. There will be a rearrangement of revenue to various genres," he says.

Krishnan surely speaks for all channels when he says, "The operating principle for all advertisers is - "Have viewership - Will advertise". He further adds, "With Headlines Today being on a growth path in terms of viewership, advertisers wanting to reach out out to the younger affluent metro audiences will look at Headlines Today as an ideal platform."

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