Around this time, a year ago, the English news genre was shaken by the launch of Republic TV, a channel driven by one of the most well-known faces in TV, Arnab Goswami.
The channel broke all ratings within the first week and the English news genre itself expanded by around 65% with Republic getting 2,000 Impressions (‘000s), more than three times than that of nearest rival Times Now, also Goswami’s former employer.
As the channel completed the first year, the euphoria around it has settled. The viewership has become more realistic and hovers between 500 and 800 Impressions (‘000s), slightly higher than Times Now.
Republic TV is number one in viewership. But has the viewership translated into revenue? Has the Goswami-driven channel bypassed the legacy brands?
The channel garnered an average of 209 Impressions (‘000s) in non-primetime, against 221 Impressions (‘000s) in primetime slots between weeks 14-17. Times Now gathered 175 Impressions (‘000s) and 155 Impressions (‘000s) on the respective slots. India Today Television scored 99 Impressions (‘000s) and 83 Impressions (‘000s), while CNN News18 got 77 Impressions (‘000s) and 70 Impressions (‘000s), respectively. By broad classification, the genre treats 7-11 pm as primetime, while 11am-6pm is non-primetime.
The broad point here is that Republic TV is possibly the only channel that attracts much more eyeballs in the primetime slots than the non-primetime slots. But if you take a closer look at the viewership numbers for Republic, the primetime and non-primetime are pretty much comparable with a difference of mere 12 Impressions (‘000s).
This data was sourced from BARC India, mapped on the TG – All India, M 22+ AB.
Though it is clearly the top player in terms of viewership, Republic TV also claims that it has revenues higher than the rivals and Goswami's show still commands a lot of premium.
But market players, including several media agencies, differ. According to experts BestMediaInfo spoke to, Goswami's show commands much better rates than others during the primetime but during non-primetime, Times Now is still ahead in the race. The primetime debate on Republic TV is being sold at an average rate of anywhere between Rs 28,000 and Rs 30,000 per 10 seconds.
A media planner, who didn’t want to be named, explained that the rates on primetime, especially the debate shows, are largely independent of the run-of-day-part (RODP) rates offered by the channels. “The shows that have Goswami as the anchor are getting the highest ad rates in the industry. In fact, the primetime debate is being sold at an average rate of anywhere around or above Rs 30,000 per 10 seconds. This rate averaged to close to Rs 25,000-28,000 when Goswami was on The Newshour on Times Now. Another factor is that The Newshour has also had a time when Times could get Rs 60,000-65,000 for a single slot, which is very difficult for Republic to meet.”
Another senior media observer who has been closely watching the news genre for his clients pointed to an interesting observation. He said, “Goswami is the most popular anchor on Indian news today, all English, Hindi and regional news genres put together. He does attract viewers, whether it is only to watch him, to stoke their patriotic emotions or just to watch the news debate. His equity is high on the celebrity index. But the rest of the day, even if they gain comparable viewerships, would not be able to garner similar monies.”
A cross-section of media planners and buyers, all of whom refused to come on record, confirmed that while Republic charges and earns the most on Goswami’s shows, their RODPs on the rest of the time slots are marginally lower than the immediate number 2.
Saumya Agarwal, Associate Vice-President, Vizeum, said, “Times Now continues to command one of the highest rates due to its proven and consistent performance over a period of time and even after the exit of Goswami. Republic's entire focus and rightly so, has been to get the channel and its content right so that it can then monetise commensurately. Consistency in performance yields more than just a great start. If they are able to hold on with their numbers it will gradually start showing in their revenues. However, they have given the consumers, advertisers and planners a worthy alternative to Times Now.”
Vineet Sodhani, CEO, Spatial Access, said, “Times Now flagship show The Newshour (during Arnab days) used to get a 65-70% share of viewership but even the non-Newshour time bands had a 40-45% viewership. The same trend continues at Republic. The lead anchor gets viewers to get used to the whole channel even when he/ she is not present on screen.”
While this is proven by the BARC numbers, there is another theory that a senior media observer shared. He said, “When Republic was launching, it got pretty much the highest premium on the channel, the maximum on Arnab’s shows. It was only because it was Goswami who was launching the channel and his market value is very high, the anticipation was huge. However, as the time is passing by, the rates are getting rationalised and now even the debate shows don’t have a very high novelty factor. This is pushing the rates down. The rates looked to have settled in the last couple of months, but they are marginally lower than what the No. 2 is getting.”
Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic TV, said, “We have clients who buy impact with Arnab’s show and often do not need to buy any other channel in the genre. There are many tactical campaigns where they buy blended rates for RODP and Arnab’s shows. Our overall premium on the ad rates is far superior than anyone else in the genre and deliver the maximum impact for the investment. Our rates are the most consistent in the market and hence our partner agencies and clients are most comfortable with doing high value investments with the brand.”
It is true that Goswami’s brand value is much more than anyone else’s around. But at the same time, he has made some extra efforts in building it.
We learnt from industry sources that Goswami used to sit for the sales meetings himself in the initial months of Republic’s launch. In the last two years of his tenure at Times Now, he had really come out with a good sales and viewership understanding. Even during these two years, he used to sit through a couple of client meetings to ‘probably’ understand the trade.
A senior media professional who has worked very closely with Goswami said, “Not many anchors care about what works and what doesn’t. Goswami used to pay extra attention in understanding how a viewer behaves during ad breaks, before and after ad breaks. He made it a point to understand what peaks viewership during the two hours of his debate. As for the clients that he met, clients were often mesmerised by his presence and the way he carries himself off screen. We must give it to him for taking those extra efforts in understanding the tricks of the trade, in terms of viewership or advertising. What brands wanted and how brands react was something that he deeply understands.”
He went on to add, “Because of the awe that he created in the client meetings and his own efforts towards sales during the start of Republic, one would have noticed that the initial brands to hop on to the channel were not the giants in advertising, but smaller and mid-level advertisers. These were the people who were most impressed by Goswami’s presence probably.”
Another industry expert said, “All owners, including Raghav Bahl (Bloomberg), Dr Pronnoy Roy (NDTV), are meeting their clients and have a relationship in the market. The channels feel the need to keep thanking and appreciating our advertisers and the fact that they believe in our product.”
Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, South Asia Dentsu Aegis Network, said, “There’s so much competition and clutter in all the genres, that it is very difficult to set up a new channel. The news genre is especially the most competitive. It is very commendable about Republic TV that they have been able to bring up a channel which debuted at the lead position and is actually getting compared to a long-standing player in the genre. A couple of things that probably worked in Republic’s favour – one is that Arnab himself is a very big brand, and the second is that much before the brand Republic was launched, there was much hype and anticipation created for it on social media and digital platforms.”
Bhasin predicted that consolidation in the English news genre was imminent and only three to four players would survive.
“I strongly believe that almost all the genres, including news, is soon going to see a lot of consolidation and only three to four players will be left. About ad rates, it is not like stocks or dollar pricing wherein the rates change every day. Almost all deals on television are long term and happen after considering a longer duration of any channel’s performance. Ad monies are directly proportional to eyeballs on a long-term basis. Over a period of time, the channel will earn as per its viewership performance.”
It was also learnt that the channel has been carefully picking clients in the category so that they have scope to add more. Technically, if they block all prospective time slots with one client, then that category might get sealed for other players.
Another aspect is that the channel debuted at a healthy 2 million Impressions and after a year now, it has largely settled at 0.5-0.8 million Impressions. It must be noted that the whole genre had seen a huge upsurge at the time of Republic’s launch, and in the three weeks of May 2017 (week 19 onwards), the genre rose to clock somewhere around 11.4 million Impressions.
That was the time when putting the channels on dual LCNs and placing them on landing pages on various distribution platforms was prevalent in the industry. The rivals of Republic TV alleged that the newcomer indulged in such practices.
However, TRAI later restricted the TV channels from placing their channel feeds on two LCNs and landing pages. The matter about landing pages is still sub-judice at TDSAT.
Speaking about the peak viewership at the launch, Khanchandani explained, “Our launch was one of the most impactful media launches. The expectations and anticipation were high, PR build-up was great, advertising campaign was visible, content plan was impactful, the product was on the most prime shelf space and the entire organisations positive energies was channelised.”
When asked if they had expected the channel to settle at 500 Impressions (‘000s), he added, “We expected to be at leadership position, and to make an impact.”
Mentioning that perception is a huge driver for the genre, Agarwal stated, “Republic comes across as a very serious player with an aggressive mindset and a leader like personality. It launched to conquer from day 1. It seems to target the more intellectually inclined compared to other news channels.”
Republic likely to launch a Hindi news channel
Sharing what next for Republic, Khanchandani gave in a three-pronged plan.
The company is expecting to build branded content in a big way so that it contributes around 30-35% of Republic’s business in the next one year. “Our teams have built a very robust strategy and model around content marketing and we are confident that it will contribute to 30-35% of our broadcast business in the next one year,” he said.
“Behtar India with DHFL is such a project. NDTV was the frontrunner in this, since they started doing such projects about five to six years ago,” he said.
These are generally long-term projects about three to five years, but one has to get the concept right, get a campaign ambassador, conceptualise the content and work around all this.
On the second note, the channel is going to have a huge focus on building its digital brand, Republicworld.com. “Digital is our key priority and we are very focused on scaling it up. We are investing in resources, technology, capabilities, talent and content. We think BIG and we are agile. We were the first ones to be on Hotstar and Sony Liv,” Khanchandani added.
Lastly, settling all the rumours about the launch of a Hindi news channel, he said that the company is interested in it. “There is an opportunity in the Hindi genre. Even the sixth player is earning over a 100 crore and I strongly feel the genre needs a differentiated offering,” he said.
While the whole media investment industry has been talking about ‘eyeballs are directly proportional to monies’, why this disparity? Why is it that the channel that leads the viewership charts is not able to lead the ad rates chart too? Why this under-indexation?
Khanchandani concluded, “To build a profitable news business one has to think big on monetisation and be prudent about running your business. One has to be careful about costs and optimise your resources. We have to think like a start-up and deliver like a leader. That makes us a synthetic start-up. Our revenues are more than anyone within the genre and we have a lead over the next player. We have arrested our cash burn right after the first month.”