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In-depth: Regional channels gain viewership for polls, but can they leverage it?

Regional news channels witnessed 300-800 per cent surge in viewership on May 19, counting day for the Assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam. But monetising is still an issue as the ‘live’ coverage goes ad-free

Raushni Bhagia | Mumbai | May 30, 2016


As the country still struggles with complete digitisation, the over-dependence of television channels on advertising revenue continues and is here to stay for a while more. In the absence of significant subscription revenues, the surge in viewership plays the most crucial role in attracting advertisers.

Once a programme has got a high viewership, it cannot be monetised if the repetition of the performance is not guaranteed. However, the anticipation, calculation and importance of the programme give broadcasters a sense to predict high points in the viewership and command premium.

What happens when despite the highest spike in viewership, monetisation becomes difficult? What if the possibility of advertising on the main programme becomes negligible and the supported programming is all that the broadcaster can sell?

This is a situation which news channels generally face during their peak times. The counting day of the state Assembly elections in four major states is a case in point.

The viewership numbers of the regional news channels swelled in Week 20, especially on Thursday, May 19, owing to counting day in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam. The maximum surge was experienced by the Malayalam news channels in Kerala with as much as 800 per cent increase in viewership on Thursday of Week 20 (71,045 Impressions) over the previous week’s Thursday (9,006 Impressions), as per BARC (4+ Kerala).

The Bengali news channels too witnessed significant jump in viewership in Week 20 (May 19) when the genre got a combined viewership of 53,708 Impressions against 10,223 Impressions that it garnered on Thursday of Week 19. This was a 520 per cent increase, mapped on BARC 4+ West Bengal.

Assamese news channels too grew by 430 per cent from 4,263 Impressions in Week 19 to 18,332 impressions in week 20, when counting happened.

Tamil Nadu, a state known for having maximum television viewership in the country, witnessed the smallest rise, possibly because the viewership is already very high in the state. The news genre experienced a significant rise in viewership, as much as 320 per cent, to clock 89,519 Impressions in Week 20.

Despite all of this, barring one or two, the news channels across the four markets went break-less on the day of counting. All the news channels generally go break-less during important events like polling day, result day, any major mishap or even in case of any breaking news.

Sundeep Nagpal Sundeep Nagpal

Sundeep Nagpal, Managing Director, Stratagem Media, said, “That’s because all developments are happening live almost every few minutes, and the coverage systems are designed to capture all that, and they cannot afford to miss any development.”

Is it a worrisome situation, then? Is there a solution? Should the genre, then, be left to be used only for building frequency of advertisements?

Shankar B, Chief Executive Officer of Fourth Dimensions (the ad sales company selling for Puthiathalaimurai and other southern regional channels), agreed, “Yes, many went break-less but it is only obvious looking at the content on that band.”

Shekhar Banerjee Shekhar Banerjee

Shekhar Banerjee Chief Operating Officer, Madison Media Infinity, added, “Yes, it is true that the channels go break-less on counting days. One can only buy slots during pre-counting and post-counting. One can look at buying the studio analysis after the counting day but then the viewership for that programming is nowhere comparable to the D-Day, which means again the advertiser will not buy it on premium as the counting day might get sold.”

A clever example put forth by Banerjee is of the famous Prince falling into the pit. “Even when Prince fell in the well, the nation was glued to news channels but if they get an ad inserted during such a time, viewers will switch channels.”

What are the options available to the news channels then? Can there be any other kind of advertising or product placement/integration?

Nagpal said this is why the rates are so high even for the few selected ads that are put, and some brands avail of on-screen properties such as L-bands, ashton bands, ticker tape, etc.

But with programming like elections and analytical subjects, how difficult it is for the brands to grab screen space?

Banerjee said, “It’s tough because already a lot of screen division and news tickers are running. In such a cluttered environment, advertising might interfere with viewing experience though I am sure brands must be trying that.”

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