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#OpinionsThatCount: Are English news channels too much into star anchor primetime debates at the cost of news?

With evening primetime slots turning into slanging matches and overly opinionated debates, is news being relegated to tickers and slugs at the bottom of the screen? The nation wants to know

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | February 27, 2017

english-news-channel-950Arnab Goswami has much to his credit having made 'shouting on national television' an arguably popular and cool phenomenon. While the format of debates can trace its existence to Hindi news channels, Goswami can take the cup home for making it desirable for the English counterparts. Even Malayalam news channels, otherwise known for DD style of news presentation, have fallen prey to the allure of raised voices.

In the English news genre, the most popular, noisy and sought-after debate –Newshour on Times Now – has become the bellwether. In the aftermath of Goswami’s exit from Times Now, while the channel managed to sustain viewership numbers, it has now only become more necessary to relook anchor-led debates on national TV channels. Hindi news channels tried to follow the debate format on primetime but the genre has largely gone back to news bulletins.

What is worse, they are less of debate and more of slanging matches. The viewer is unable to make out, at most times, the flow of arguments as it is a common spectacle where four to five panellists scream simultaneously.

We don’t see that on respected global news channels like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Fox News, etc. Is it an aberration? Is it an ‘Only in India’ format of TV news journalism? Or are Indian viewers not evolved enough to lap this up? Or is it a plain and simple TRP game?

BestMediaInfo.com tries to analyse and know from stakeholders if primetime debates have permanently edged out news to the ticker tape and bottom-of-the-screen slugs on English news channels.

MK Anand MK Anand

MK Anand, MD and CEO, Times Network

To some extent I think yes, pure news in anchor-package format can be brought back because we have a bulletin at 11 o’clock now and it is working. I think we have a great bunch of anchors at 9 PM. I would rather wait for Arnab to come and then I will take a call.

Also, maybe we have come a long way and developed a mindset where people come in to watch a debate at 9 PM. With a small audience, it is all the more difficult to change habits. You can change habits easily in large bases because somebody will still be there to watch it.

Radhakrishnan Nair Radhakrishnan Nair

Radhakrishnan Nair, Managing Editor, CNN-News18

Statistically speaking, primetime is not only at 9 PM. Viewership data shows that primetime is anytime from 8-11PM with highs within this peak time. The slot is deemed as primetime just because seniors who are now veterans anchor shows at 9 PM.

At CNN-News 18, news is prime and takes centre stage. Our 8 PM show, News 360, is the only complete one-hour news show on Indian English news television. It carries news from across the country. Anchors are important to hold news and conduct debates. We are building a set of new age anchors for our primetime. We are a news first channel and that shows. For example, during the Tamil Nadu government formation drama, we stayed with news while others were stuck in primetime debate formats. Not just news first, we also get you the most balanced views without imposing the anchor’s views. English viewers want a mix of news and views and we are committed to working to improve the viewer experience with more research and fact checks.

Dinesh Rathore Dinesh Rathore

Dinesh Rathore, COO, Madison Media Omega

I think Arnab Goswami made this format popular. Unfortunately, India follows herd mentality. So, when Goswami became popular with debates, everyone started doing debates. I think anchors want to come into their own. For example, it is how people identify certain timelines with a particular radio jockey. I think that is what channels are also trying to build and therefore each news anchor is trying to build his or her own identity and his or her own time belt/bend. Even when there wasn’t so much competition, Prannoy Roy was the face of NDTV. Roy and Vinod Dua were the face of elections. So, everybody needs a face. Even for GECs, their characters become their face.

Advertisers do take note of the anchors because they have certain perception in the market. So, when one says I have so and so person talking about the market, that person is perceived to be an authority on the subject. So, everybody needs a face.

Sanjay Tripathy Sanjay Tripathy

Sanjay Tripathy, Senior EVP, Head - Marketing, Analytics, Digital & E-commerce, HDFC Life

I don’t think news is being ignored. News channels are looking at the customer pulse. Today, because of the proliferation of the digital and the mobile media, people are getting news instantly and because of digital, news dissemination has become faster. So, people used to watch 9 PM news to get new information. Today nothing will come at 9 PM news that you haven’t already seen on your mobile. People now are asking what more can they get from news channels. Particularly the English news audience is slightly more evolved and would like to understand a perspective. They want to get a deeper understanding.

I am not worried about who is delivering the news and how the message is getting delivered. As long as the channel is making sense to the audience and more viewers are watching it, as a brand owner I will go to it for advertising.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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