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Breaking viewership records, news proves its mettle but will it get better ad rates?

News channels are recording an unprecedented growth in viewership so much so that they surpassed GECs last week. With political activity heating up, the interest in news is likely to remain high. But why isn't the viewership growth reflecting in ad rates? analyses

On the back of the upcoming elections and recent events such as the Pulwama attacks and its aftermath, viewership of the news genre on TV in India, especially the Hindi news channels, touched an all-time high with Aaj Tak even bypassing GECs last week.

Industry experts believe viewership will further shoot up by at least 25% as big tickets events such as the Cricket World Cup, Indian Premier League and general and state elections are coming up.

But why aren’t the existing increase in viewership and the projected spike in the next few months reflecting in the ad rates of channels? Even the top Hindi news channel, which has a reach as high as Hindi GEC, gets one fifth of its ad rate.

Avinash Pandey

Speaking about the under-pricing, Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, said the news genre had an unprecedented market share but the advertising rate doesn’t change for this. “With the Abhinandan episode and the surgical strike, the news genre registered a far higher viewership than what GECs delivered. But the truth is that a high-delivery programme for a GEC can manage to extract value from advertising revenue while the news genre is grossly under-priced,” he said.

Industry experts said that the main issue when it comes to advertising on news channels is uncertainty. They said the genre sees a spike only when there are major events such as the Pulwama strike or elections. The channels don’t have a consistency in viewership, which makes it difficult for advertisers to plan on the reach.

Rajiv Dubey

Rajiv Dubey, GM, Dabur India, said, “If an advertiser has to invest money, they would want to invest in a sure-shot channel. The day air force officer Abhinandan returned, the Hindi news genre stood higher than a Hindi GEC. People didn’t know when he was going to come. But on a regular basis, the viewership is segmented and the numbers are really small. When we aggregate all the numbers on news channels then it looks bigger whereas when we look at the entertainment channels, their numbers are much bigger because the number of single shows is really high in that genre.”

R. Venkatasubramanian

R. Venkatasubramanian, National Head of Investments, Havas Media India, said that the segmentation of the news channels is another factor. “All news channels are showing the same thing, there is no exclusive content. I will get the same content in a different manner. Election dates have been announced but I can watch that news on any channel. I am not stuck to one channel. This is one of the reasons why advertisers are not keen on investing in any particular channel. The genre has seen a spike today but we don’t know when the spike will happen next. There is no fixed programme as such; we don’t know what content they are going to air. A show at 5am might see a spike one day but it is not necessary the same show will get the same reach the next day. It might be a noon show the next day. So while investing, advertisers don't want to predict; they want to be sure of their deliveries.”

High fragmentation in news genre hits ad rates

The experts also pointed at heavy fragmentation within the market as another reason why advertisers are not keen on investing on the news channels. There may be a number of news channels in just one market. Like in Assam, there are around 20 news channels. They say advertisers choose to invest in a platform that guarantees reach.

News channels mainly depend on advertising revenue. But while events such as Abhinandan’s return or the Pulwama attack do record a growth in viewership, the revenue does not see a much change also because most channels tend to refrain from cashing in on it.

Vikas Khanchandani

Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic TV, said, “Most news channels do not increase inventories on special incidents or events. In fact, they drop their inventories. During the Abhinandan coverage, we didn’t run any inventory. Because at that time, the focus is solely on the story and the priorities kick in. So we do not necessarily look at it as a commercially opportune movement.”

Khanchandani says advertisers know when the overall consumption of news channel is high, so they go for structured events like election and World Cup. In fact, election will be one event which the news genre will monetise.

Agreeing with Khanchandani, Venkatasubramanian says that the news channels have generated interest among advertisers in the next two months now that the elections dates have been announced.

While experts say the unpredictable nature of the news genre’s viewership was restricting advertisers, Pandey has a different view. He argues that there are certain shows in news channels that have dedicated viewers but they don’t generate the desired ad revenue. “On a daily basis, millions of people are tuning in to news channels. They come with an appointment-viewing mindset when it is about the women-oriented shows or the commentary on daily soaps in the afternoon on different news channels. If we look at these programmes, they have a huge loyal viewership but don’t get advertiser support. While, the same number of audience can extract better value on advertising through GECs. Also, the news-viewing audience is highly engaged,” he said.

Though there is fragmentation and a lack of differentiation in the genre, experts believe the consumption pattern is changing in the TV ecosystem. Viewers are slowly shifting to OTT when it comes to the consumption of entertaining content, whereas television is said to be viewed for live events.

“The world is changing; viewers are slowly shifting to watching shows on OTT instead of television. I think slowly only news and sports will be watched live on TV and appreciated and people will subscribe to cable only for that reason. I think the way the value of news channels is going up in the industry today, it is unprecedented. Advertisers should jump at this opportunity to expand their reach and advertise their products,” he said.

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