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Ratings play key role in helping advertisers decide where to put their money: Network18’s Karan Abhishek Singh

In an exclusive conversation with, Singh, CEO, Hindi News Cluster, Network18, said that the absence of ratings did not stop the viewers from watching the channels

Karan Abhishek Singh

From a revenue point of view, the ratings dark period did not worsen the situation for the news genre, Karan Abhishek Singh, CEO, Hindi News Cluster, Network18 said. 

In an exclusive conversation with, Singh also stated that the absence of ratings did not stop the viewers from watching the channels. He then went on to add that from a revenue point of view, the ratings dark period did not worsen the situation for the news genre, it’s just that the ratings establish a particular order of preference based on the viewers’ liking.

“People were watching the channels and from a planning and buying point of view clients and agencies were using various aliases for establishing which are the channels and networks they want to partner with,” he said. 

“The content that we put up on the screens also helped people make decisions in the absence of ratings in that period. If I look into the ratings dark period, while I maintain that ratings are a desired thing to happen, from a revenue point of view I don't think there was any negative impact on us at all. We have grown steadily and rapidly across our portfolios and that has only been backed up by growth in viewership once the ratings have resumed.” 

Pre- and post-COVID-19 era and pre and post-ratings dark period

Speaking about the Network18’s Hindi News Cluster’s revenue performance in two scenarios, one being pre and post-COVID-19 era and another being pre and post-ratings dark period, Singh said, “We don’t see it that way. For us, business is ongoing but if we talk about the pre and post-COVID-19 scenario, there was a particular component of overall TV viewership that comes from news and that's how the steady state was in the pre-COVID-19 times. During the COVID-19 period and even after that we had the highest amount of viewership that has ever come on the news genre. So, from the viewership perspective it was massive.”

However, it was also a time where the country was under a lockdown and even after it was lifted fully and the world was coming to terms with the new reality, the advertiser spends were also significantly muted, Singh added. 

Furthermore, Singh went on to say that, “So, the advertiser spends and revenues could not be in sync with the kind of viewership spike that had been seen, and rightly so, because the heightened interest in watching news was due to the situation around the world and in the country. People wanted to know more. That explains the crazy viewership.”

From the revenue standpoint, revenues at an overall level would have grown at a linear rate compared to the pre-pandemic situation, he said. 

“But if you look at the resumption of ratings as the next divider for the two phases, as an industry we think it's a good thing to have ratings. We have always consistently maintained that because that gives us a clear measure of the efforts that our editorial and content teams are putting behind taking the product up on the screens. So, from that perspective, it was a welcome move to resume the ratings,” Singh stated. 

“Secondly, we had a fantastic last fiscal, we recorded strong growth and EBITDA and once the ratings resumed it was much better for us and it also helped us showcase to the rest of the world the improved ratings of our channels. In the erstwhile ratings regime, which came to a halt in the middle of the pandemic, there was a particular level at which our channels were. Once the ratings resumed our ratings have only improved multi-fold across our portfolio of channels. So, in that sense it was very good,” he added.

Singh went on to point out that everyone has struggled for various reasons - starting from the Ukraine war, to the overall inflationary pressure across categories - so it has been a time that has tested everyone across industries.

“However, in the last couple of months the signs have been pretty encouraging, we have seen the inflationary pressures abate significantly. Most consumer organisations are now talking about margins and volumes starting to go back to pre-COVID-19 levels or being better than that,” Singh said.

Furthermore, he added that what the last two-and-a-half or three years have also taught all businesses is how to be smarter in terms of managing their costs so their margins are looking better. 

“As we move towards the end of this fiscal year, there are reasonably encouraging signs that over the next three to six months we will see a very robust moment in the market,” Singh said. 

Growth prospects in the upcoming months

“We are seeing a few categories start to get buoyant. FMCGs and consumer durables are talking about significantly better margins month-on-month now going forward. In the auto category, for the last few months we have been seeing record deliveries of vehicles happening. So, there is a huge demand that has been witnessed over the last three to four months,” Singh said. 

Furthermore, with the inflationary pressure abating, in the next three to six months things should only look better, he stated.

Singh then went on to add that the focus of welfare schemes that the government is rolling out in the market consistently is on driving consumption and putting more ability to purchase in the hands of the masses. That should really help consumption across different categories, as per him. 

“The funding winter has not completely gone away but I firmly believe that businesses, whether start-ups or the ones that are doing well and are demonstrating promise of being profitable in businesses, are still generating enough funding that is coming across. They are the ones that are partnering with us across various initiatives,” Singh stated.

Ratings play a key role in helping the advertisers decide where to put their money

Talking about ratings and the impact it has on ad rates, Singh shared key insights about how they affect the negotiations between advertisers and channels.

Singh said, “There is no correlation between growth in viewership and the ad rates because our advertiser partners are matured seasoned people in the space who like to put their money where they get the best returns on their marketing objectives. In that sense, ratings play a key role in helping them decide where to put their money. Since our channels moved to the pole position after the resumption of ratings we have seen a steady price increase across our portfolio.”

“Speaking specifically for the Hindi cluster of channels, there is a strong double digit growth we have seen across our flagship channel News18 India. The movement of ad rates has been extremely heartening in what has been a tough year and the only reason behind it is that there is a premium that the advertisers will pay for larger and better viewership. So, that is happening but this is an ongoing journey, and there is no point A to B. It's the function of the demand and supply in the market, it's a function of the kind of leadership you maintain in the market,” he added. 

Furthermore, Singh remembered the time when News18 India became the number one ranked Hindi news channel for the first time in its history.

“The heartening thing here is that despite what has been a challenging business environment, we have got support from advertisers across our regular inventory fills, special initiatives, our impact properties and events that we have mounted. So, it's a measure of the confidence that advertisers are demonstrating in us and with every passing week as we have demonstrated established and coherent leadership in the market, that support is only going up,” he added. 

Top 4-5 channels have reasonably stable inventory currently

Commenting on the challenge of falling inventories adding to the ad rate woes, Singh stated that it all depends on the comparison point. 

“I believe presently if you look at the top four-five channels in the genre, everybody is running reasonably stable inventory. Last year, there were some accelerator spikes that were there in the form of some of these new-age businesses, which have been little muted, but otherwise if you look at the core of advertisers, for Hindi news, there is no dramatic shift in the number of advertisers,” Singh said.

“What happened however is, if you look at the annualised level of inventories, there were phases especially the July-August (2022)  period which was an extremely low phase for the industry and that got reflected on TV news also and likewise Hindi news,” he added.

Furthermore, he stated that one of the reasons was also that it was the time which saw peak inflation in India and globally.

“It was also a period, in July-August, when the Ukraine-Russia war was threatening to completely spill over and maybe metamorphose into a World War and the global sentiment was really challenged. Therefore, that was the period where demand in the sense of regular ask for inventory went down. Right now it's in a stable state and there are no ups and downs. If I look back at last year, the inventory levels are lower but I don't categorise this as a falling level of inventory,” he stated.

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