I was quite sure that continued negativity on news channels would only harm them. My logic was that we Indians were generally quite happy with the progress the country was making and while we did feel that some things were wrong, we did not think that things had gone so wrong that a daily dose of negativity was required. My gut told me that news channels had over-reached themselves and faced the prospectc of losing their audiences.
So I called for TRP data over the last 9 quarters and what I found was startling proof for my theories. The data backed my views. In fact the data vindicated my thinking (and my ability to observe consumer moods and trends) so strongly that I was taken aback.
The data I considered was for the last 9 quarters. Jan-Mar 2009 was the first quarter. Jan-Feb 2011 was the last quarter (though it was only for 2 mths, I am taking it as a quarter). I looked at data of the top 4 English channels (Times Now, CNN IBN, NDTV 24x7 and Headlines Today) and the entire Hindi bouquet of channels (some 15 of them). For the news channels, I took 25+ Males in C&S households as the TG cut since I am told that’s how news broadcasters look at their core TG. I also considered Hindi GECs so that I could see if there were larger trends (drops maybe) in TV viewership which were not limited to just the news channels. For GECs, I considered the regular 4+ All SEC, C&S data.
Before we look at the data, it’s important for me to make a couple of points. First, that English news channels became virulent in their attacks on the Government after the Kalmadi-CWG period.....sometime around July-Aug 2010. They started investigations which, to me, appeared shallow, but which they made a lot of noise about. They converted themselves into court rooms and tried government officials and politicians at will. They put together panel discussions which debated issues ad nauseum along expected party lines. They openly sensationalized; some would say that they adopted the style and format of Hindi news channels. Others would say that they became competitors of Hindi GECs! Either which way, they contributed to screwing up the mood in the country....... Things have got so bad recently that in a CNN IBN interview, Sushma Swaraj unashamedly said “I forgave the PM earlier. Now I would not forgive him again” or some such thing. So Sushma Swaraj had assumed the powers of “forgiving”. All this was happening on prime time on English news channels. They still haven’t stopped. Hindi news channels on the other hand have always been sensational. So really, there was no major change in their programming over the last two years (of course, they also covered the same scams that the English channels did).
Now the proof:
1) Over the last 2 years, English news channels have suffered the most. Their viewership is down 29%. This is dramatic because Hindi news channels only fell 20% and Hindi GECs actually gained 10% in the same period of time. This shows that people deserted news channels in general and English channels in particular. And they flocked to the GECs.
2) The overall growth of the GECs would indicate that overall TV viewership grew. It wasn’t as if overall TV viewership had fallen. The fall was only for news channels.
3) The most virulent of all English channels have been Times Now and CNN IBN in that order. The data shows that they have fallen the most. Times Now fell by 31%, CNN IBN by 21% and NDTV fell only by 12%. This shows that the more virulent the channel, the more it has fallen.
4) The leadership of Times Now has been severely dented over this period of time. It used to be the unequivocal leader in the Jan-Mar 2009 period. It had a lead of 24% over CNN IBN in that period of time. In Jan-Feb 2011, its lead had come down to just 9%. In fact, in the two main quarters when Times Now was unbearably virulent (July – Dec 2010), they lost their leadership position to CNN IBN.
5) Someone mentioned to me that news channels would show a big hit over a 2-year period because 2 years back, they had a high base on account of the general elections of May 2009. I wanted to test this out. So I also looked at changes over the last 1-year. And the pattern is no different. English news channels are down 5%, while Hindi news channels are actually up 5% over the last one year.
Either way you cut the data, this is direct evidence that negativity is harming the interests of the English news channels. English news viewers don’t expect to be dished out the same style and content as Hindi news channels. That’s why they are just switching away.
This drop in viewership is having an impact on their financial results as well. In the July-Sept 2010 quarter, NDTV reported an 8% decline in revenues over the previous year (in spite of the fact that the previous year was a period of advertising slow-down). Likewise, I am told that Times Now and CNN IBN also suffered de-growths.
The real truth is that the negativity of news channels appears to be harming them big time. It appears to be driven by political agenda, not by business compulsions. Neither is it helping channels shore up their overall viewership; nor is it giving them competitive edge over each other. In fact, the leader’s leads are dipping. Further, share holders are suffering as a result of this strategy. Why they are continuing to allow their channels managements to continue in this manner is an issue that beats me....