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Eyeing No. 1 spot, News18 India to focus on non-primetime and weekend: Avinash Kaul

The channel has built its primetime with shows starting from 6pm with anchors like Amish Devgan, Sumit Awasthi, Kishore Ajwani and Preeti Raghunandan among others. It gathers almost 15-16 per cent viewership from primetime, against an HSM average of 11 per cent

Avinash Kaul

A year after its rebranding and changing the name from IBN7 to News18 India, the Hindi news channel has managed to increase its market share and ranking in the genre. Now that the channel is confident that it is leading the Hindi news genre in the primetime hours of 7-11pm, it is turning its focus on the non-primetime segment.

Avinash Kaul, President, Network18 & MD, A+E Networks | TV18, said, “We are leading in the primetime across all HSM – top cities, urban and rural. The areas that we need to now work on are non-primetime hours of morning and afternoon and then eventually, the weekends. Primetime was our biggest focus and we worked through the year to set that right.”

The channel has built its primetime with shows starting from 6pm with anchors such as Amish Devgan, Sumit Awasthi, Kishore Ajwani and Preeti Raghunandan among others. The channel now gathers almost 15-16 per cent viewership from primetime against an HSM average of 11 per cent.

Kaul added, “The non-primetime and weekends will then help us gun for the No. 1 spot, which is our endeavour. Consolidating the position in the top channels is also a task.”

Around November last year, before the launch, the channel had about 4.5-5 per cent and now it’s over 11 per cent. “Not just viewership, we have also seen a good growth in revenues. However, revenues always take some time to catch up. We have increased ad rates periodically as our performance improved. It must have been a growth of about 20-30 per cent, but we are expecting more,” added Kaul.

After the name change on November 9, 2017, it carefully planned its programming content strategy, which is possibly one thing that clicked for the channel. According to Kaul, the attempt was to migrate the audience from one show to another and making sure it had good faces as anchors such as Prateek Trivedi, Devgan, Raghunandan, Awasthi and Ajwani. The content on primetime too was built block by block.

The channel had launched a high-decibel campaign at the time of changing the name from IBN7 to News18 India. But was the name change smooth or did it affect the perception about the channel? “In a news channel, the familiarity is with the anchors and the news style. Our electronic programming guide (EPG) or schedule hasn’t changed. So people will find their content here. People will take some time to remember the name change, but it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things. Over a period of time, everyone gets habituated.”

Showing content that appeals to the viewers, but which might not be the best they can offer, is one criticism Hindi news channels often face these days. The genre has also been blamed for regression, favouritism and the lack of objectivity.

Answering whether serving the content that people want to watch instead of 'what is right' is disservice to the society, Kaul said, “Fundamentally, I have a disagreement with this. Who decides what is right. 30,000 people (who have bar-o-meters) see what is right and give it more attention. How would anybody else be in judgement of what is right? If they thought something is not right, why would they watch it?”

Kaul said, “The viewer is very smart and he distinguishes between 170+ news channels operating in India. Of those, if he chooses only the top five to seven channels, he knows what is worth his time. We tried to listen and recognise what they wanted and we have attuned ourselves to that. That’s one reason why we moved from No. 8 to No. 3.”

The Hindi news genre is a crowded one with nearly 25 players. The oldest player AajTak has been operating nationally since 1998. The new players include News Nation and others. With so many players, it is difficult for any new player or a rebranded player to really set foot in the industry. Kaul agreed about the challenges in the genre, “Hindi news is a very hard-fought battle. You plan one thing and the competition plans 50 things. It’s a mixed bag but we are happy that the number of things that has worked for us are much more than what has not. It’s a hyper competitive space.”

In Week 46, News18 India grabbed 79.103 million Impressions (HSM (U+R) NCCS All 15+).

News18 India grew from No. 8, when there were 10,000 bar-o-meters and now hovers above No. 4 and 5, now that there are 30,000 bar-o-meters of BARC India to measure viewership. “With each new meter, we are not falling down. But the ecosystem is hyper competitive. It is a changing landscape everyday – with analogue, increasing bar-o-meters and many other things. To continuously keep looking at the content, audience’s desires and keep changing is the toughest part of this journey. This has been one of the toughest challenge of my career. In a few years, this will get stabilised but right now, reaching a position is not enough. Sustaining it is a bigger challenge,” said Kaul.

The genre is such that some of the broadcasters have even launched second channels in the same genre. AajTak has Tez, Zee has Zee Hindustan and most players do have such variant. Kaul feels it is very difficult to specify the need gap right now. He believes, “News18 India is right now heavy on debate, you might find something more local, civic issues-related products.

The white spaces keep moving and it is difficult to identify a need gap. So, if there is a consideration of a second channel, I better think about it at that time.”

Lastly, the discussion went on to digital. The consumption of news and videos on digital platform is exponentially increasing. Right from the social media platforms, to the short messaging news apps and video apps – there are many sources of news and videos. In such a scenario, the traditional news sources such as print publications and news TV channels are also trying to grab the digital eyeballs.

Kaul shared his monetisation strategy if and when BARC India rolls out a digital measurement. He said, “The way the digital consumption is happening, I think the way we have taken cognizance of that and there are already efforts being made in that direction. We were the first ones to be on social as news in India. We did a newscast live with our own news brand about two to three years back when Facebook first introduced it in India. We are continuously looking at that space and there will be a lot of development there. There will be a time when BARC rolls out its digital measurement, I am sure we will be able to do something good with it.”

Though he agreed that monetisation of digital is still a challenge, he said there are ways to sort it out. “Hotstar, Voot and a lot of OTT are there. Jio came in and changed the whole consumption pattern with the bandwidth game. It's a changing offering and we have to wait and see how it transforms the scenario from the news perspective.”

Looking at the bid numbers, IPL is looking decent from the digital point of view. “Somebody will ultimately take the lead in figuring out the digital monetisation. Since there is a massive investment that goes into sport, they will try many things to figure how it will go. We have to be nimble enough to pick up those things and see how we can align ourselves to the general emerging trends. We have to have a watchful eye on the space and we can dynamically catch onto that trend quickly,” Kaul concluded.

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