The Mumbai-Delhi, English janta, is usually taken up by what Arnab Goswami or Rajdeep Sardesai have to say. About five news channels, that may or may not include the world-class Al Jazeera and BBC, have become the TV news universe for a large number of people in these two metros.
But what do a bulk of Indian news consumers watch? Here are the three surprises that trawling through TAM Media Research data for three years ending 2013 threw up.
Hindi news channels that cater to roughly half of India, and Telugu ones dominate the top ten charts. None of the English news channels made it to the top ten news channels in India, in the three years ending 2013. Representation Pic/Thinkstock
One, none of the English news channels made it to the top ten news channels in India, in the three years ending 2013. (A trend that continues through 2014, though data for all the weeks is not yet available.) Invariably, Hindi news channels that cater to roughly half of India, and Telugu ones dominate the top ten charts. Aaj Tak, ABP News, TV9 feature prominently year after year. This goes with the overall share of Hindi news (3.87 per cent) and Telugu (1.23 per cent) in the total time spent on TV nationally. English channels got a 0.12 per cent share of national TV viewing time. The ad rates however are inversely proportionate with English getting better rates because of its perceived ability to reach premium audiences.
Two, news is one of the most watched genres of programming on TV, on par with kids television and much higher than sports. It is, however, one of the least profitable part of the R43,000-crore television industry. At 135, India has a world-beating number of news channels in a R1,800-crore stagnant market. Of the scores of broadcasters operating in India, only four make money. Many of the others are funded by politicians, real-estate barons or people who are in it to use the channel as a lever for their main businesses. This then has ensured that the entire TV news industry is caught in a downward spiral on content and an upward one on costs.
Three, languages other than Hindi and English show growth, particularly Assamese, Gujarati, and Oriya. This indicates a creeping, basic level of diversity. The reason may simply be the rising penetration of television in small-town and rural India. One of the big drivers is direct-to-home or DTH.
Clearly TV news is very popular and this chaotic democracy loves talking to itself about its own problems. How then should India’s broken news industry be fixed? Possibly by facilitating the flow of capital into what is a very expensive business. The government could push up foreign investment limits (from 26 to 49 per cent) and remove the ‘a single Indian shareholder to control 51 per cent of a news company’ condition. Most strategic investors have shown little appetite for Indian media so far. If this encourages them it would be good news. A Dow Jones or a Bloomberg, brings with it knowledge, processes and training badly needed in the Indian news industry.
Another way to facilitate better quality news is by setting the state-controlled Prasar Bharati Corporation which operates Doordarshan and All India Radio truly free. If Doordarshan becomes a high-quality, independent news broadcaster, it will force private ones to follow its lead a la BBC in the UK.
And while the regulators are at it, pushing through digitisation, instead of delaying it will help cut costs and make pay revenues for small broadcasters.
News television that gives news and analysis instead of screaming matches is a pleasure worth working towards.
The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik