Analysis: Growth of Indian Television News Channels Continues

Text of editorial analysis by Steve Metcalf of BBC Monitoring Media Services on 11 October

The 24-hour news channel in India is a broadcasting genre that has seen double-digit growth for the past three years and seems set to continue, according to the results of a survey published in September 2005. The study was conducted by TAM (Television Audience Measurement) Media Research for the Indiantelevision.com website. It found that the number of news channels had risen from 11 in 2002 to 30 as of August 2005.

The majority of these (two-thirds) were Hindi-language news channels and a few were English language. The remainder were categorized as either regional news or business news channels, which are currently the two growth areas.

Audience size

In terms of the news share of the television audience, the TAM study found that during the Mumbai floods in July 2005 the news genre had a 17-per cent share of the Mumbai cable and satellite audience, as against 8 per cent four weeks before the floods.

Television in India now reaches 108 million homes. This is an increase of 32 per cent over 2002 and means that just over half of all Indian homes now have television. This was reported in the National Readership Survey of 2005, conducted by a branch of India’s Audit Bureau of Circulations. The NRS report also noted that the number of homes with access to cable or satellite television had risen from 40 million in 2002 to 61 million this year. (Only the national public broadcaster, Doordarshan, transmits terrestrially.)

Leading Hindi channels

For some years, the leading Hindi news channel has been Aaj Tak. It was launched in December 2000 and is part of the TV Today Network. TV Today is itself part of the Living Media Group, which publishes the weekly India Today and a number of other magazines.

After Aaj Tak, TV Today launched an English channel, Headlines Today, and then in August 2005 a second Hindi channel, Tez (meaning Fast). Both are aimed at the busy viewer who does not have time for long and detailed news bulletins. Headlines Today has a 30-minute news cycle and network chairman and managing director Aroon Purie, at the launch of Tez, described his newest channel’s approach as “maximum news in minimum time”. Press reports say that TV Today is planning to launch a fourth channel, specifically for the New Delhi region.

However, Aaj Tak’s domination of the Hindi market is now under serious threat from Star News, a joint venture between News Corporation’s Star TV group and the Indian ABP media group. Under India’s Foreign Direct Investment rules, Star’s participation is limited to 26 per cent. ABP, based in Kolkata, is publisher of the English-language daily The Telegraph and the leading Bengali daily, Anand Bazar Patrika.

Market shares

TAM’s weekly figures for viewing of Hindi news channels in the major metropolitan areas show that Star and Aaj Tak are running neck- and-neck. During August and September 2005 both registered a weekly market share of 25 per cent or just under.

Behind them, with shares of around 15 per cent were Zee News and NDTV India. Zee News, the first 24-hour Hindi news channel, is part of the Zee Telefilms group, which also owns the country’s largest cable distributor, Siticable, and the direct-to-home satellite service Dish TV.

NDTV (New Delhi Television) was originally a producer of news and current affairs programming. NDTV India launched in April 2003, as did an English-language news channel, NDTV 24×7. A business channel, NDTV Profit, launched in January 2005.

Other Hindi channels

The top four Hindi news channels are followed by a number of others, among them DD News (24-hour news in Hindi and English from the public broadcaster), Sahara Samay, Awaaz and Channel 7.

Channel 7, launched this year, is part of the group that publishes Dainik Jagran. This Hindi newspaper has become the country’s most widely-read daily, with a readership of over 21 million, according to the National Readership Survey 2005.

Awaaz is a business and consumer channel that is part of the TV18 stable. TV18 also operates CNBC TV18, an English-language business news channel which is a joint venture with CNBC Asia-Pacific in which TV18 has a 90-per cent stake, and the international channel South Asia World.

Sahara Samay is part of the Sahara group, which also has interests in banking, aviation and housing. In addition to its national news channel, Sahara has branched out into what it calls “city-centric” channels. In July 2005 it launched one for the Delhi region to join four channels already broadcasting to Mumbai and Hindi-speaking northern regions.

Going regional

Star TV’s tie-up with the ABP group from Kolkata (Calcutta) encouraged it to launch a Bengali channel, Star Ananda, in June 2005. It was not the first Bengali-language news channel – Tara Newz had launched in February. However TAM viewing figures for Star Ananda’s first week showed that it had captured a market share of 38 per cent amongst news channels, as against Tara’s 10 per cent.

As a report on Indiantelevision.com on 11 June pointed out, that high market share could be attributed to viewer curiosity and was no guarantee of future performance.

However, the report also highlighted another interesting aspect of the TAM survey. The third to sixth places were taken by the four leading Hindi news channels, with between 10 and six per cent of the share. The share of the English-language channels was negligible, at two or three per cent, and CNN and BBC World both registered just one per cent. This was surprising, the report said, for a city that should have been more at ease with English than Hindi.

One of the smaller Hindi news channels, India TV, also has plans to branch out regionally. Chairman Rajat Sharma told Indiantelevision.com that the company had applied for uplink permission for a Gujarati-language channel, which could be on air by November. He added that a Punjabi channel was also under consideration.

North, south and beyond

Away from the Hindi-speaking regions, particularly in the south, competition is not so fierce for the moment.

In the largely Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh, the first two all-news channels were ETV2 and TV9, in late 2003 and early 2004 respectively. They were followed by Teja News, part of the Sun Network.

Sun, based in Chennai in Tamil Nadu, also operates the Tamil- language Sun News and the Kannada-language Udaya News. Malayalam speakers in Kerala are served by Asianet News and IndiaVision.

ETV2 is part of the Eenadu group, which is based in Hyderabad. ETV now has 11 regional channels around the country, more than any other network except Doordarshan. Although these offer general entertainment programming, a report in The Telegraph of Kolkata on 12 March 2005 noted that ETV devoted 20 per cent of its total daily programming to news.

The same report said that Sun had signed a joint venture agreement with the Malaysian pay-TV operator Astro All Asia. Part of the deal envisages a Bengali channel for which Sun would provide the news programming. Astro has also signed a provisional agreement with NDTV to set up 24-hour channels for southeast Asia.

Growth industry

Although the news TV genre is only a small part of the overall television market, it appears that there is money to be made from advertising revenue. A special report by Manisha Bhattacharjee for Indiantelevision.com on 5 October said that the news broadcast industry had grown in a few years from a market worth 1 billion rupees (22.5 million dollars) to one worth five times that figure, with the possibility of further growth.

Hardly a month goes by without industry reports or speculation about planned new start-ups. Some channels will undoubtedly fall by the wayside. However, those players already in the market may find that new channels can be launched with minimal additional investment, as was the case with TV Today and Tez. Alternatively, a tie-up with a strong local media brand (see Channel 7) and/or the resources of a global operator (Star Ananda) could point the way to success.

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