Fasten your Seatbelts for The Big Bihar Sunday

06 Nov,2015


By Shailesh Kapoor


An election results day is here again. And this time, it’s a Sunday too. Bihar elections have been a long-drawn process, with an extended campaign period and five phases of polling. It will all come to an end on November 8, when the counting begins. And it promises to be a cliffhanger.


Election results coverage is perhaps the only form of structured programming of any significance that news channels still have, besides the ‘talking heads locked in a debate’ format. It all gets over in a hurry, but it’s great fun while it lasts, especially if you can identify the best 2-3 news channels on the day and watch within that set, than surfing across more than a dozen of them.


Most exit polls show a close finish for these elections, though Today’s Chanakya, best known for their 300+ forecast for NDA in the 2014 General Elections, is predicting a clear majority for NDA in Bihar. Sunday will be a crucial day for Chanakya too, not just for the two sides locked in a prestigious political battle.


When we shifted from ballot paper to EVMs, the nature of election results programming changed overnight. Till then, anchors had all the time to engage in deep analysis. Psephologists, political experts and politicians themselves with spend considerable time in news studios. No one would be in a hurry. It would all roll out at a leisurely pace, with banter thrown in for good measure. Dr Prannoy Roy shone through those days. This format really suited his personality.


When the EVMs arrived, we witnessed a time collapse. The real action, from the first leads coming in to a clear picture emerging, would take anything from half-hour to maximum two hours, depending on how one-sided or close the battle is.


Most news channels are still experimenting with an ideal programming format that delivers to this T20-type brief. The viewer is bound to focus primarily on the leads window, much like business news channels are watched in market hours. So should one create a show that presents the leads information to viewers in a direct, almost idiot-proof, manner? Or should one create engaging programming for the high-engagement viewers who are deep into politics, and let everyone else focus on the window on the side or the bottom of the screen


This is where anchor personalities can play a significant role. Choices like above are not easy to make. But viewers eventually tend to watch election results programming because they trust certain anchors for their experience and knowledge of the topic. Every anchor has his (rarely ‘her’ in this case) style that he needs to bring to the coverage. Technology and talking-heads are only aids.


Yet, after Dr Roy, we haven’t had a standout election results anchor. Most top news anchors (across languages) do a serviceable job of the day, but there’s no one who will be remembered for his election results coverage before anything else. Perhaps an outcome of the EVMs coming in.


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