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The Republic debate, sans Arnab Goswami talks to media planners and buyers to understand the commercial viability of a debate-heavy channel

Soon after Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani declared on Thursday that the upcoming channel will be a synonym for TV news debates in India, we decided to debate the proposition of Arnab Goswami’s 24-hour channel which is all set to formally go live tomorrow. It seems to be a never-ending debate when we ponder over how TV journalism has moved from disseminating information to opinions or debates and study its compulsions, benefits and drawbacks. In such a backdrop, we debate if Goswami’s idea of a debate-heavy channel is good or bad for the channel, without him participating in it.

Also read: Republic = Debate tried to throw a plethora of questions on the concept of a debate-heavy channel at media planners and buyers to understand its commercial viability.

Longevity debate

Divya Radhakrishnan

Divya Radhakrishnan, MD Helios Media, said, “India loves to debate. Why talk about a news channel? Go anywhere. Debates happen on social media, over a cup of tea, over a call and even at the cocktail parties. Everyone, today, has an opinion and someone else has a counter-opinion. So, the channel can go very far debating. People want to watch debates to really see who supports which of their own opinions.”

She went on to explain, “News channels can have two major types of content, news and debate, while some choose to focus on news or both, Republic is taking the debate route because they have Goswami. No one wants to consume news without having an opinion about it.”

While the news channels have various shows on different beats -- entertainment, cricket and politics -- the mixed bag too is not necessarily a sure-short formula for success.

Dinesh Rathore

Dinesh Rathore, COO, Madison Media Omega, said, “The best part is that Republic knows exactly what its positioning is. They are not entering the market aimlessly. You are never going to get mass viewership on the channel. Even a Rahul Gandhi interview got fractional viewership (when Arnab interviewed him for Times Now). There will be a set of audiences who will identify well with the content and might become loyal viewers.”

Also read: Republic TV to launch on Hotstar

Another media planner, who did not want to be named, said, “It is very difficult to create exclusivity of content within news genre. The news is the same for everyone and sooner or later, everyone get there. Except for the first few minutes of ‘breaking news’ charm, everyone is on the level playing field, as far as content is concerned. It is the debates and analytical shows that help in creating differentiation.”

Enough to debate?

Having said all of this, to run debates every day, one needs those many social/ political topics too that have national relevance. How many topics of discussion can be generated each day, ultimately news channels run 24x7?

Radhakrishnan points out that there are thousands of topics to discuss in India. “They will rather end up sorting out which ones not to do. I have been following debates for the last five years and I know that at any given time, there are so many topics getting overlapped.”

Rathore on the other hand feels that fatigue might creep in if the topics are not relevant enough. “The main task for the content creators will be to make debates interesting by bringing up relevant issues. If you stretch a topic for too long, then there will be fatigue. The challenge will be to pick good strong relevant topics. There is no dearth of problems/ topics.”

Rathore pointed out that presentation and guests on the discussion panel will play a vital role for the success of each debate. “There should be differentiated formats from one part of the day to another.”

An avid media watcher said on the condition of anonymity, “Debates are best defined as newsroom journalism that suits the business the best on account of low cost operations. Perhaps Republic has had this in mind if they want to succeed and become profitable. Gone are the days when ground reporting was the core of journalism. Viewers across the world have started liking those who take sides. At the end of the day, it is all about popularity and viewership and a start-up like Republic is within its right to choose its proposition.”

The ‘ad’ debate

What are the advertisers looking for really? Does the exclusivity of content attract them? Is there enough stickiness to bring aboard advertisers?

Rathore said advertisers consider viewership numbers only when they buy. “Marketers do not decide whether fantasy will work, audience does. If Naagin is No. 1 show, brands will invest there. They only see numbers.”

Radhakrishnan supported the thought by adding the new media angle to it. “Debates generate a lot of social media conversations. You can have hashtags and more impressions through debates. Advertisers do look at all of this too, along with viewership ratings. The ratings and perception go hand in hand while the brands are deciding. So, yes, debates help.”

While everyone else gave thumbs up to the stickiness, the anonymous planner said, “Stickiness will depend on a lot of things like the treatment given to the topic and the inputs of the guests. That part is quite subjective. But generally, for an averagely balanced out debate, viewers want to follow till the end.”

The channel is merely a day away and the content will be out there to sample and decide. Let’s see what happens next.

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