English language TV channels, it is believed, set the agenda for the nation and are viewed by everybody who matters. The viewership of these channels is miniscule as compared to general entertainment, sports or language news channels almost across the spectrum. And yet, social media debate would suggest that the nation is riveted on the daily dose of hectoring broadcasts and acrimonious ‘debates’ that pass off as news.
A look at the numbers released by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India however suggests that the entire English news segment is in a state of flux, whether it is general news or business.
Consider the 24th week data released today by BARC India. After its big bang launch a few weeks ago and the further surge for a couple of weeks after, the gap between Republic TV and TimesNow is shrinking. Maybe because the channels are increasingly looking like clones of one another with similar shrieking debates and virtually the same set of panellists. Even their newsbreaks are on similar issues – corruption and shenanigans of opposition parties or about Pakistan.
The 2nd June week data (week 24) released by BARC India shows RepublicTV ahead with 963,000 impressions, but TimesNow is snapping at its heels with 935,000. India Today is a distant third with 317,000 impressions. The big surprise is that NDTV has fallen out of the top five, to be replaced by BBC World News at 4th spot (250,000 impressions), followed by CNN-News18 at 5th , with 247,000 impressions.
A week earlier (week 23), Republic TV was significantly ahead at 1,054,000 impressions, with Times Now at 748,000 impressions. The battle for third and fourth spot is between India Today and CNN-News 18, with viewership in the range of 250,000 to 340,000 in the past three weeks, with NDTV just marginally behind.
Given the distance between the top two (Republic TV and TimesNow), it seems rather ironical that India Today, NDTV and CNN New18 should have thrown a tantrum and switched off BARC India’s audio watermark that allows monitoring of viewership, along with TimesNow. This happened immediately after Week 20, when BARC announced RepublicTV’s entry with a massive viewership of 1,703,000 as against TimesNow’s 978,000 impressions. In week 21, RepublicTV maintained its 1,000,000 plus impressions, after which the channels quietly switch back the watermark that provides important viewership information to their advertisers.
The English business news segment, which is essentially a two-horse race is seeing equal churn.
The CNN-IBN group, expensively acquired by Mukesh Ambani, is a steady loser. After leading the field in business news for many years, CNBC TV18 is steadily losing out to ET Now from the Times group. The 24th week data (for June) shows CNBC TV18 (at 439,000 impressions), marginally ahead of ET Now (410,000 impressions); but this is not always the case. Last week (week 23), ET Now led with 420,000 impressions, with CNBCTV18 at 372,000. The week before (22week) saw CNBC TV18 slightly ahead at 390,000 impressions while ET Now was 357,000. But in week 21 it was the reverse. ET Now was ahead and in week 20 it was CNBC TV18.
This means that there is no decisive leader anymore, in which case CNBC TV18 is a clear loser. Worse, none of the English language business channels seem to have gained any viewership at all with the shutdown of NDTV Profit a few weeks ago (in week 21), making you wonder who really watched the channel. Some industry persons joke that a large chunk of the viewership of business channels is probably from news monitoring agencies who track information about corporate houses.
It is probably only a matter of time before ET Now decisively surges ahead of CNBC TV18, because of the sheer marketing muscle of the Times group as well as its ability and willingness to offer attractive editorial plus television coverage packages to a variety of advertisers, by leveraging the enormous strength of its newspapers.
It is said that those who advertise only on English channels still manage to get the attention of policy makers. So, tiny viewership numbers do not matter to them. However, shrinking viewer interest is bad news for all those who have invested in these channels, which are all listed companies.