BBC News launched news services in four more Indian languages – Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Telugu – on October 2, adding to Tamil, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu that were earlier available.
The news network has also announced the return of its news bulletins, one in Hindi called BBC Duniya, to be broadcast on India News in the evening primetime.
A Telugu TV bulletin, BBC Prapancham, also started on Eenadu TV Andhra Pradesh and Eenadu TV Telangana. The channel has also announced its plans to launch a news bulletin in Marathi later this year, and another in Gujarati early next year.
Explaining the basis of selecting these four languages, Indu Shekhar Sinha, Head of Business Development, Asia and the Pacific Region, BBC World Service, said, “We try to meet the audience on the platform that is most comfortable to them. We have seen exceptional opportunities in these languages and that’s why we thought that we should meet the needs of audiences in these languages. We landed on these regions on the basis of assessment of the market situation and identifying the need.”
This forms part of a significant BBC investment in India, including an expanded news bureau in Delhi with two new TV studios. The Delhi bureau is now the BBC’s largest outside the UK. It will become a video, TV and digital content production hub for the whole of South Asia.
On the digital platform, other than the news services’ portal, the news in the four languages is also available on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Explaining why Delhi, Sinha added, “We always had a bureau in Delhi and it made sense to expand into studios as it has to grow to accommodate all these languages. It’s an effort to be closer to the audience and that’s why we have strengthened our presence in Delhi.”
The news services company will only provide the content in the form of bulletins, and will take no responsibility of ad sales. “We will do the entire BBC programme in a particular language that will be telecast on these TV channels. We are not an agency to give only inputs. We will give complete packaged products.”
It makes sense for the company to do that as the bulletins will all be named after BBC. To maintain the brand name, the quality of production must meet the standard of BBC.
Sinha said the Indian news genre is a matured market with high quality content. “It is true that BBC has a certain production value but that is not to say that we can question the news market in terms of production quality, especially in a matured news market like India.”
The cost of production for news content is always on a higher side versus the advertising revenues generated by the players. Sinha is prepared for that, “Admittedly, it is a challenge commercially. But it is a challenge that the whole industry faces. Our first priority is to focus on content and that’s what we will do.”
The commercial challenge is not only restricted to the television platform, but it encapsulates the digital news platforms too. However, on that front also, Sinha aims at building the content first. Sinha pointed out another challenge, saying, “BBC has more acceptance from the older generation, but we want to be attractive for the younger urban audience. We also want to be more attractive to the women audiences because that has been the gap overall.”
As a part of the efforts to get younger and female audience, he said it will reflect in the kind of journalism they do and the products that come out. “The products are not only about updating, but about inspiring, amusing and meeting the expectations of the audience,” said Sinha
The company has about 28 million people on its platforms–television gathers 22 million, radio gathers eight million and digital has three million. The company doesn’t count IPs, it counts people. “These are not page views but people who come on board BBC to consume content. Hindi alone has 10 million unique visitors,” he added.
As of now, the company has no plans for a subscription model in the digital space. This follows a huge talent drive in India, with the BBC recruiting more than 150 new journalistic staff from across the country. Over 80 per cent of the recruitment is already done as the four languages were launched on the digital platform on October 2.
Director General of the BBC, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, is in India for the launch of the services. He said, “For decades, audiences in India have trusted the BBC to bring them impartial, independent news, and today millions more have the chance to access the BBC in their own languages. We know the BBC is already held in great regard and affection across India, and we want to bring BBC News to new audiences, particularly the next generation of news consumers. We’ve recruited amazingly talented new journalists from across India, and it’s been an honour to meet many of them today. I’m also pleased the BBC is working with new TV partners in India News and Eenadu TV.”
K Bapineedu, CEO of Eenadu TV Network, said, “The BBC has established its brand name as a credible news channel across the globe. The initiative from the BBC to produce international stories with a global perspective in the Telugu language and to be broadcast on the ETV Network will add value to our existing endeavour of reaching the Telugu audience with the highest reach and authenticity.”
Kartikeya Sharma, Founder and Promoter of iTV Network, the owner and operator of India News, said, “The BBC is known for its well-researched and unbiased content, which will now reach our viewers in a language and format they can easily comprehend. India News is acknowledged as a channel that captures the pulse of the nation and promotes a brand of direct and responsible news coverage. With the coming together of the two, our viewers can look forward to getting a global perspective on stories of international significance from networks they can trust.”
The investment in India comes as part of BBC World Service’s biggest expansion since the 1940s, made possible by £291m investment from the UK Government. The BBC has already launched news in Pidgin, Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya and Korean, with services in Yoruba, Igbo and Serbian to follow.
BBC Duniya is broadcast Monday-Friday at 6pm on India News, while BBC Prapancham is broadcast Monday-Friday at 10.30pm on Eenadu TV Andhra Pradesh and Eenadu TV Telangana. Both bulletins will be fast-paced programmes giving audiences original journalism and a global perspective on the international and national stories of the day.