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Aaj Tak’s growth will set a new benchmark and compel the competition to launch innovative content: Ashish Bagga

While the Group CEO of India Today Group sees India Today Television also becoming a leader anytime soon, he is critical of IRS for lagging behind on methodology, technology used and reliability

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | February 11, 2016

Ashish Bagga Ashish Bagga

As Group CEO of India Today Group (ITG), Ashish Bagga is the executive head of one of the country’s largest media houses. The group has more than 36 magazines, including editions of leading international titles. Its flagship newsweekly, India Today, and other group publications are all market leaders. It also has four leading 24-hour news channels, including the largest Hindi news channel, seven radio stations, a newspaper, a consumer e-commerce shopping portal, and strong digital, mobile and social media presence.

ITG’s leading web property is www.indiatoday.in. The group’s web presence is currently ranked number two among the top News & Information websites in India with about 10 million unique users. Through its multiple media brands and platforms, the India Today Group reaches more than 100 million people every month.

As Group CEO, Bagga has spearheaded the group’s foray into a diversified multimedia play with e-commerce, transit retail and education besides direct to consumer and the digital business. He has forged strong relationships for ITG with leading international media groups such as US based Hearst Corp, Germany’s Axel Springer and Daily Mail of UK.

At the industry level, Bagga has headed various bodies like the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) and plays a key role in Indian Broadcasting Fedwration (IBF), etc.

BestMediaInfo.com caught up with Bagga recently for a freewheeling conversation ranging on subjects like television ratings, channel leadership, ad rates, print readership, etc. Excerpts:

As Aaj Tak penetrates rural markets by expanding its reach with DD Free Dish, what does this move actually bring to the table for the genre, advertisers and viewers?

Aaj Tak’s initiative of making the channel available across geographies and viewers has been a positive booster for the genre, advertisers and viewers alike. Soon as Aaj Tak entered DD Free Dish, the dominant No.1 News channel in India broke all viewership records with the addition of a new viewer set. A consistent all-India viewer base of over 100 million (4+) for over eleven successive weeks by Aaj Tak is not just ground breaking but unseen, unheard and unmatched in the news space.

Advertisers will benefit a lot through this expansion as they will get to reach out to additional viewers on the same highly respected platform. The increased sampling and additional viewers will give advertisers the most for their ad spends on Aaj Tak, further increasing their ROI.

From the viewer perspective, a new set of viewers will get access to news from the nation’s leader - Aaj Tak. In addition, Aaj Tak’s growth will set a new benchmark for the genre and competing products will be compelled to launch innovative content.

Now that you have a fair portion of viewership coming from rural markets, what’s going to be the content strategy to cater to those audiences?

The channel’s pioneering spirit led to the launch of a rural focussed news show – ‘Gaon Aaj Tak’. It provides a full spectrum of rural news – from hard subjects to inspirational stories, problems, issues and a perspective that is fresh and uniquely rural. The series not only keeps rural India updated on issues that matter but also gives a glimpse of their world to viewers across towns, cities and metros. In addition to this, regular content on the channel is being realigned to reach out to a larger audience as per viewership patterns across the rural markets.

To create preference for the channel, Aaj Tak undertook a massive marketing outreach exercise covering small towns and villages across the Hindi heartland. The visibility of Aaj Tak was powered by extensive wall paintings across the HSM states backed with an extensive activation programme connecting hundreds of villages with their out-stationed members.

Backed with the right mix of distribution and extensive marketing, the content strategy of Aaj Tak will see a series of adaptations and reinvention to continue to be a leader in the news space across both the urban and rural markets. The launch of ‘Gaon Aaj Tak’, coverage of news from smaller towns/villages and adjusting content as per the larger viewership patterns across markets are just a few of the initiatives done in this direction. The dominance of the channel in setting new records across rating frontiers is testimony to the effectiveness of our initial initiatives.

Would the ad rate hike be directly proportional to the increase in coverage/reach after the launch of rural viewership data and then going live on DD Free Dish? What is the percentage of hike in ad rates?

Yes, the advertising rates will be hiked, but there are also factors beyond the coverage increase that will drive the price hike. There has been active brand reinforcement, introduction of thought leadership programming and a never before margin in market share with the No. 2/ No.3 player.

Aaj Tak has unleashed a new age of news programming through innovative content with programmes like ‘Upparwala Dekh Raha Hai’ that now enjoy a differentiated loyalty.

Advertisers may counter the proposal of rate hike by saying nothing has changed except reporting of rural viewership data which they were already anticipating while advertising earlier. Isn’t their logic justified?

Aaj Tak has increased its presence in areas where it wasn’t earlier available and has invested in marketing to this new viewer set. Therefore, there is clearly new viewer acquisition that should entail a separate consideration. To add to this, the 100 million mark puts Aaj Tak at a pedestal far above the other players in the genre. Therefore, Aaj Tak in a sense becomes indispensable in a media plan that would like to cater to the news genre.

How would you counter the arguments being given by AAAI and ISA to resist CPT buying when they say “both CPRP and CPT may have to continue till we reach 100% penetration of TV”?

CPT buying brings effectiveness to media plans by bringing an absolute audience base to the picture. CPT is more in line with future expectations as it will help advertisers evaluate spends across platforms. The need of the hour is to be progressive, and just as channels work hard to service every viewer, the advertiser should be willing to compensate the channel for that.

How much difference has the change in ratings regime from TAM to BARC made in the last nine months to the Hindi News genre and also Aaj Tak?

Aaj Tak has been the clear, undisputed No. 1 news channel across not just TAM and BARC, but also the other currencies like TGI and IRS. Therefore, it is only good for us that all currencies corroborate one truth: that Aaj Tak is the nation’s most preferred source of news.

The launch of India Today Television was the first big television news brand launch in the BARC regime. Do you have a roadmap by when the channel will be a leader in the English News genre?

The launch of India Today Television was perhaps the most successful media launch in recent times with the channel delivering high growth from the launch week itself as per BARC ratings. The channel has already established itself as the clear No. 2 English News channel in terms of coverage and ratings within the first year of its launch. The trend is similar during primetime where the channel is the clear No.2 news channel in market share and coverage. The ‘Gold Standard of Journalism’ and a focus on the viewer has steered the channel on the right path towards leadership... and now it is a matter of time that it becomes the preferred alternative.

Being Group CEO of India Today Group that also publishes two No. 1 news weeklies, India Today English and Hindi, and a newspaper, Mail Today, do you see the sole measurement of print readership, IRS, shaping up as a credible currency anytime soon?

After IRS 2012 Q4 findings, the subsequent survey results in the 2013 round had thrown up many anomalies in reported readership numbers of various titles under newspapers and magazines. The number of publications covered under the survey also came down substantially which led to most media publications voicing their concern regarding the same. The 2014 results saw an improvement in the overall methodology with more clear representation of data. However, there are still some discrepancies which are yet to be addressed.

Keeping in view these shortcomings, I hope the next round would see a better approach for addressing such issues for IRS to be unanimously seen as a credible measurement of readership numbers.

Given the long absence of IRS readership data, has the Print industry settled down into a no-data regime?

A credible measurement system is the need of the hour as the industry still uses the IRS data of 2012 Q4 while planning their campaigns. The IRS 2013 faced issues in acceptability of the data across the main publications and IRS 2014 was also not universally accepted.  The interrupted data and the long delays with un-acceptance of the data among the major publications have of course worked against the standardisation of the currency. This is a severe problem due to the long absence of the IRS readership data especially when the other media platforms – digital, TV and Radio – provide the latest rating data. With marketers not confident about the reliability of the data and the absence of an effective research tool, the overall spend on the print industry beyond the main publications could also get affected.

You have been an aggressive opponent of the last published IRS, citing many anomalies in the data. Do you see IRS ever being able to satisfy the Print industry? What really needs to be done?

The efforts going in to conducting and collating the survey are huge.  India is a very heterogeneous market; hence the data needs to be as current as possible and more scientific. The current survey lags behind on methodology, technology used and reliability. The measurement of print readership has to evolve to be relevant in the changing media space by providing a scientific base for measurement that is credible as per ground realities and as up to date as possible. For instance, the methodology for surveying magazine and niche title readership should be differentiated from that of dailies in terms of selection of sample data and minimum response numbers to qualify for reporting.

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