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Do news channels serve what viewers want to see?

Data shows that television viewership of both Hindi, English news genres grew to almost double in Week 9, when the news of Sridevi’s death was being played out. The figures indicated that while everybody was criticising the sensationalism in the coverage, people were watching it at the same time

While a lot has been said about how the Indian news channels sensationalised and bloated the death of actress Sridevi, what did it really do for the genre? In Week 9 of 2018, which recorded television viewership data from February 24 to March 2, both Hindi and English news genres grew to almost double its regular numbers, respectively.

But will this growth translate into revenues or perception building? The real question that was asked all this while is who is responsible for such an irresponsible portrayal of a news story? The popular answer was, ‘viewers’. So, is this what the viewers of the news genres demand and hence, get served on the channels?

The advertisers are not going to increase ad rates or shell out extra money against this viewership that was earned through ‘pure sensationalisation’. But was there even doubt that the viewership would increase? As BARC India, CEO, Partho Dasgupta, said at the recently concluded Ficci Frames 2018, “Drama works across genres.” Sensationalisation of news helps add the drama. The reach and audience of Hindi GECs, movies and news is almost the same, so the reason why viewership is so different in all these genres is the time spent.

Viewers tend to spend more time on the entertainment channels than on news, and the reason is drama and longer format of storytelling. This is what is provoking the news channels to bring drama in their content. Hence they also have introduced a lot of half-an-hour format shows that dramatise crime incidents.

While the whole country was criticising news channels for the treatment to Sridevi’s case, everyone kept watching it nonetheless. The data released by BARC India for Week 9 proves this all the more.

Within the Hindi news genre, while the leader Aaj Tak clocked 265506 Impressions (’000s), ABP News at No. 2 got 259622 Impressions (’000s). Zee News generated 152917 Impressions (’000s). India TV grabbed No. 4 spot with 134206 Impressions (’000s), News Nation too increased its viewership and gathered 118815 Impressions (’000s).

It is a common estimate that the rural viewers watch this kind of content more than their urban counterparts. However, this myth was busted in this viewership. Aaj Tak garnered 152877 Impressions (’000s) in urban while it clocked 112631 Impressions (’000s) in rural markets. ABP News gained 151600 Impressions (’000s) from the urban audience and 108022 Impressions (’000s) from the rural ones.

Similarly, Zee News clocked 89787 Impressions (’000s) from urban and 63129 Impressions (’000s) from rural. India TV garnered 85155 Impressions (’000s) and 49051 Impressions (’000s) from urban and rural markets, respectively. News Nation clocked 61979 and 56836 Impressions (’000s), respectively, from urban and rural markets.

Within the English news genre, the leader Republic TV garnered 1223 Impressions (’000s), followed by Times Now that gained 1034 Impressions (’000s). India Today Television generated 814 Impressions (’000s), while CNN News 18 and Mirror Now clocked 516 Impressions (’000s) and 321 Impressions (’000s), respectively.

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